In many membership based organizations, especially in the non-profit and non-profit charity organization, the members who remit an annual fee for the benefit and value of the membership as well as to support the mission of the organization may feel left out in the decision-making process. Of course that is why there is an elected board of directors in place, to, on behalf of the membership, guide the organization according to the mission, vision and values.
Long gone are the days that networking was defined by an oh-so-clever (i.e. glaringly obvious) title such as “networking gala”, “wine and cheese”, “meet and greet”… the creative list goes on. Yes, the days in which business students and eager young graduates assumed the act of networking was accompanied by an on-and-off switch. During this time, we had to prepare ourselves to have (often inorganic and at times slightly awkward) conversations with people we didn’t know. We had to make sure we had our clutch or purse equipped with business cards, regardless of whether or not we actually had a title – or a job. This was how it was done, right? This was how you met people in the hopes of creating opportunity?
Or so we thought.
Although the end goal of creating opportunity is still the same, I have learned some very interesting things about the wonderful world of networking, and how it has changed. I’ll even let you keeners in on a secret that can save you some questioning, and even an awkward convo or two in the future. Here it is: the on-and-off switch doesn’t exist. Even scarier: the only mode that really exists is ON. You are always networking in some capacity.
While your conversations will eventually become less awkward and more organic, and that 30-second-elevator-pitch (about yourself, your company, your product, your service) will soon easily roll off your tongue, here are a couple things to keep in mind when you just may find yourself…are you ready for it…networking by accident!
How to network by accident
1. It’s a small world. No, really, it is!
This is a cliché, but a true one. Tons of connections are made and business transactions done in situations that occur by chance. The next time you meet your sister-in-law’s cousin’s friend’s sister, and they ask you about yourself, come prepared with something eloquent, short and sweet to summarize who you are. There is no need to brag about your accomplishments (personal or professional) but there is also no need to downplay them either. Be proud of who you are and what you do and find a short and respectful way of explaining it. Examples that evoke emotion in people allow them to relate. For example, perhaps you are a website designer who just helped a non-profit add an online donations section to their site, thereby doubling their monthly donation quota. That’s pretty cool!
Even cooler, although your new friend may have just asked about you to be polite, there is also a chance she may have a contact in need of a similar service. By confidently and briefly explaining what you do, there is more of a chance of making a connection with someone who shares a similar interest, or who is in need of a similar service. And by doing so, you just made a potential business connection on a Saturday afternoon over a glass of wine with a few new friends – in about 60 seconds.
Now, you can just go about your afternoon and hand her a card at the end of the visit to pass along to her contact. Doesn’t get much easier than that, does it?
2. There is great power in being genuine (and just plain nice).
Most people can very quickly sense the quality of being genuine. Sometimes we tend to overthink things and forget what an impact we can have by simply being authentic and kind. Rather than thinking about networking as a sales exercise or sales pitch, take a moment to stop trying to impress (and cram as much information into 60 seconds as possible), but rather give open and honest answers about yourself, your career and your accomplishments. Women, in particular, have a tendency to downplay their successes. There is a genuine way to talk about yourself and those things you have achieved, without coming across as bragging. So go ahead and explain your accomplishments. But remember: no matter whom you meet or how you meet them, when they ask you a question, use the opportunity to give genuine answers. And when you ask them questions, make sure to listen to their answers, and not just wait for your turn to speak. This is how good relationships – both personal and professional – are built.
And as always, if there is mutual opportunity or even potential opportunity, be sure to leave your card or contact information. Chances are that person will remember you as being a genuine and pleasant person with whom they have already built a trusting relationship. And they will likely remember you in the future if they meet someone who could benefit from your expertise.
And there you have it… you networked and didn’t even know it!
By Lisa Cefali
Despite the amount of texting and online communication that consumes us, the face-to-face impression when business networking is still key and you need to ace it.
The most articulate individual over email or quick responder via text can crash and burn when asked to attend a business function.
So, how does one work a room to get business done and leave a lasting impression?
Here are seven helpful hints to make sure your first impression counts:
1. Eat before you arrive.
Yes, there will be appetizers served, but really they are there to create ambience and are a side to the alcohol being served.
Remember, you are there to meet contacts. Imagine the first impression you provide if you have greasy fingers that make shaking hands difficult; you are slurping chicken off bones to get every last bite; or are walking around with greenery or cracked pepper stuck in your teeth.
It doesn’t matter who you are nor what position you hold – it’s not a good look!
If you must eat something because you are having a beverage or were not able to eat earlier, then go to the buffet table, make yourself a small plate of safe foods that won’t remain with you after the last gulp, finish your snack, wash your hands, ensure you are presentable and then begin your purposeful networking – which is why you’re at this event in the first place!
The ability to hold a glass of wine and a plate in one hand, nibble and carry on a meaningful conversation is very difficult and I would only recommend it to the most seasoned individuals.
If there is a dessert bar, watch the cream filling, so that it doesn’t spill onto your blouse or tie – and whatever you do, do not lean into the chocolate fountain to avoid it dripping onto your clothes!
2. Drink responsibly – both in quality and in quantity.
It is a known fact that it is socially more comfortable for everyone to have a drink in hand. Whether it’s alcoholic or non-alcoholic, choose a beverage that is easy to sip.
Although great tasting, a Caesar that causes the celery to hit you on the cheek or leaves a trail of seasoned salt on your lips is not the best choice for creating a first impression. Save the Caesars or any complicated drinks with garnishes for the patio.
At one of the first events I ever attended as the hostess, one of my board members commented that I was a “half glass president.”
This is the time when your glass can be half empty! You need to be fully coherent to make every first impression with everyone you meet a good one. Now is not the time to be “tossing it back.” There is nothing wrong with limiting your drinks so that you are walking around with half a glass of wine or half a cocktail in hand.
3. Shake hands.
As you meet each individual, extend your right hand – yes, even if you are left-handed – and provide a firm handshake. But not aggressively firm.
I have pulled away one too many times with my rings imprinted into my fingers, hand numbly pressed into a contorted position for the next 10 minutes.
Further, the ability to shake hands implies you are not eating and actually have a free hand to extend. We have all been witness to it. The individual is caught off guard. He or she chews and smiles (nice see-food), quickly wipes his or her hands briefly on a napkin or their pants and then extends the hand across! Ew!
This is not a good first impression but is definitely a memorable impression of you the next time a person sees you. Shaking hands is a time honoured ritual that is still good business. Do it well!
4. Hand out your business cards respectfully.
Too often I have seen the overzealous business person introduce his or her self and immediately shove a card into my hand.
If you want a better first impression, introduce yourself, shake hands and start conversing. Determine whether the individual may want your card. Could it be good business for both of you? If the answer is “yes” and you want to be remembered, ask for permission: “Can I give you my business card?”
Chances are they will always say “yes,” however asking is much more effective than forcing them to take it.
Now what if you don’t get a card in return? Well, think about that. They may not want to give you one, as they may not want to do business with you. Or they may have run out of cards! Simply ask for one. Whether you get one or not, the next step is the same.
Write a note to yourself on the back of the card you have received (or a card of your own if you did not receive one) that will serve as a reminder of the connection you just made with that person. This will be very effective in making a great impression when you are able to follow up with a call and say something relevant.
5. Prepare for your networking conversation.
Beyond introducing yourself and sharing what you do, or who you are with, you need to be articulate. Yes, real conversation where you can’t hide behind texts, LOLs, smiley faces, selfies, or emails that you have corrected, rewritten and spellchecked!
You need to be able to hold a conversation with real people face-to-face.
With all the technology that we use and the level of texting that is used to communicate, the face-to-face conversation can be the most intimidating and difficult.
How do you prepare for a conversation with a complete stranger? The reality is, most business networking functions are multi-generational so you need to find common ground.
If the conversation falls flat on the business side, can you speak about a common topic? For example, is it hockey playoff time? What are some of the current events in recent weeks? Is it close to the weekend? Is it cottage season?
Think about topics that you can easily and intellectually speak about. Do not sound off on the daily highlights from the morning news – make sure you know some details.
People love to talk about themselves so prepare a few questions that you can ask to further the first impression into a conversation of substance. The questions do need to be relevant and specific – “How about them Jets?” won’t get you all that far. Just be prepared, plan your questions, ask one, listen first and listen well.
6. Put away your phone – for real.
I know it is tempting to leave it on or to put it on vibrate. However, you know if it vibrates, you will be tempted to check it.
For the two hours you are business networking, your phone needs to be off. Period. You are there to work the room, meet people and conduct business.
The individual you are speaking with is the most important person to you at that moment. Sending or reading a text or checking emails on your smart phone while you should be talking makes you look unprofessional.
Even if you find yourself in a small group of three or four and you are not part of the topic of conversation right at that moment, you could be, so you need to be focused.
If you know ahead of time that there is an important call coming in, place your phone on vibrate, excuse yourself, extend a thank you, leave the physical space with the group you are with and then take your call.
7. Say goodbye – simple, but oft forgotten.
When you are leaving each conversation and at the end of an event, thank people for their time and say goodbye. This is especially important when you are leaving the conversation if you are in a mini-group.
It removes the awkwardness of simply walking away as others are speaking to each other. A simple “thank you” and “goodbye” is all that is needed. Do not go on about heading back to the office for another few hours, or saying how many emails you still need to get to or that you have another big meeting you are now going to attend.
You are in a room with busy, professional people. Everyone in the room has many emails, work they could go back to, and multiple events to attend. Announcing this may sound to you like simple small talk or you may think that it demonstrates what a dedicated and focused employee you are, however, remember that this is all about first impressions.
To some you could simply look like you are trying to falsely impress them or are disorganized with what you can and cannot get done in a day. Be present for the full conversation – from “hello” to “goodbye.”
By Brenlee Coates
A network designed to help reduce the gap of women in leadership roles is blazing a trail in the business community.
“We just kept growing it and it’s been amazing to be a part of – watching it grow and watching it become more and more as it’s taken on a life of its own,” says director of PR and communication for Athena Leadership, Lisa Pitura.
“We do think having women in leadership roles is beneficial to corporations, it’s good for our communities, and there was a gap in the marketplace.
“Granted we’ve come a long, long way over the years but there’s still this opportunity to harness our energy of women and help us become stronger leaders, and we can do that best together.”
Athena Leadership is a group of women who meet once a month for member meetings to exchange work stories and challenges that they’re facing, or for mentor meetings where members are exposed to the career stories of prominent business leaders.
Besides these forums for professional advancement, Athena members also contribute to a number of philanthropic endeavours throughout the year.
Ending in April, Athena held a Dress for Success clothing drive to donate to Clothes Closet, a South Winnipeg Family Information Centre program that provides work-appropriate clothing to women leaving abusive situations or attending job training programs.
“That aligned so well with us because we’re looking at collecting business attire for women who are trying to get back into the business world. They’re trying to go for job interviews and that sort of thing definitely resonates with our members,” says Pitura. “Just by having the right attire to do that can make the world of difference.”
Last year, the drive sourced 400 pounds of clothing – the goal this year was to surpass this and donate 1,000 pounds to Clothes Closet.
Athena Leadership also put in approximately 50 hours of volunteer work into a Habitat for Humanity Women Build last year.
In total, Athena members collectively put in over 1,400 hours of volunteerism last year.
Each year, the non-profit group also raises money to offer a scholarship to a young woman, called the Athena Leader of Tomorrow Scholarship. The deadline for submissions for this year’s scholarship is Sept. 30.
Because the membership is kept relatively tight to stimulate rewarding conversations between members, most women interested in joining must be referred by an existing member of the group.
However, open member nights are held each year where you meet and greet the board and other members and discover if the group is a fit for you.
“We don’t necessarily need specific qualifications to join,” says Pitura.
The women are generally united by their shared ambitions to develop “personally and professionally, and think bigger.”
“We have some people who are just starting out in a newer career; we have people who are managers, directors, and are a little bit more advanced. It is a mix of people with different experiences and different skill sets. We can learn so much from each other.”
Athena is committed to helping any women who have big plans to achieve their potential.
“If they want to have the goal of becoming a CEO by the time they’re 35, then we want to help them get there,” says Pitura.
“It’s such a like-minded group of people… We all have friends from our lives and high school and whatnot but some people are career-focused, some people have other focuses and their career just maybe doesn’t have the same weight in their lives as others.
“Whether it’s trying for promotions, getting new jobs, hiring, even just internal conflict – to have that group of people to talk to and help support you through it is amazing.”
The motivated group of women also inspires its members to think and dream bigger.
“It makes you want to go and give more to your job and do more with what you have.
“You can see the progress and you can see people grow,” says Pitura.
By Quyen Van
Have you ever wanted to attend a fun gala (in a totally unexpected location) while getting opportunities to mix and mingle with business leaders and prospective business associates?
Then join the Young Associates May 10 for a one-night-only event Black & White: River Revelry, presented by M Group and hosted at none other than the Forks Market.
Come see The Forks like you’ve never seen them before, transformed by a mysterious yet elegant evening of revelry hosted on the banks of the river.
Complete with a special VIP lounge and interactive dance floor experience, this event is not one to be missed.
This fundraiser is an exciting event where over 600 of Winnipeg’s up-and-coming business leaders don their formal-to-chic attire; network with members of the business community; and have a ball.
The Black & White Gala was formed as a major fundraising event for the Young Associates (YA) to become the premier networking organization for young business professionals and to support the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba.
With a growing membership of over 150 that represents virtually every sector of the Manitoba economy, YA offers exceptional programming, unparalleled networking opportunities and a youthful link between the School and the business community.
This year, the YA celebrate its 20th anniversary in supporting business education and the business community as a whole.
Becoming a member with the YA provides young business- and community-minded leaders with tremendous personal and professional development opportunities while helping further business education in Manitoba.
The YA offers professional and educational development opportunities such as engaging panel discussions on emerging business topics at its Learning Series.
A Boardroom Series allows members to gather insight from distinguished business leaders and revered CEOs, as well as gain access to behind-the-scenes tours into Winnipeg’s most dynamic companies.
The YA also offers its members valuable networking opportunities with its many engaging professional development events and mixers.
Members can gather indispensable volunteer experience by taking part in organizing programming such as the Black & White Gala, Bad Pants Golf Tournament, Learning Series, and a revered Mapping Manitoba Breakfast.
Membership in the organization is open to all young professionals and includes entrepreneurs, senior executives, accountants, lawyers, investment professionals and others representing virtually every sector of the local economy.
The YA is proud to support business education through donating time and resources, as well as funding events and career development at the Asper School.
This is possible through the support from generous sponsors and through established YA fundraisers such as the Black & White Gala.
So come out to Black & White: River Revelry at the Forks Market on May 10 and mingle with Winnipeg’s finest.
With the city’s hottest entertainment acts and surprises around every corner or river bend, this year’s event is guaranteed to yet again be one of Winnipeg’s best celebrations.
For more information or to purchase your ticket, visit http://www.youngassociates.org.