Secrets of successful networking


On Wednesday 10 May 2017, WTS London had the pleasure of welcoming Mary Jane Boholst who shared her secrets of successful networking at an event generously hosted by the Rail Industry Association.

Mary Jane is founder of Conscious Cocoon. Having overcome shyness and learnt to manage introversion to successfully grow her business through networking, Mary Jane is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experience with others. She has qualifications in hypnotherapy, counselling, IT and a degree in psychology and communications engineering.

Mary Jane provided many helpful tips for getting the most out of networking in her encouraging and interactive talk.

Networking challenges

Mary Jane kicked off the session by asking the audience to reflect on the networking challenges they face. Common themes included: poor self image and low confidence, ice-breaking moments, remembering names, breaking into a group, steering the conversation, the questions to ask to get what you want, getting past small talk and how to meet thought leaders and influencers.

When asked about the outcomes they hoped for, responses from the audience included: getting people engaged and interested so they would like to meet again, sparking ideas and making things happen, speaking confidently and building two-way relationships.

Mary Jane went on to offer advice on dealing with those challenges and getting the most out of networking. 

The most important thing she wanted the audience to take away was that 'connection is everything'. Networking is about making connections with other people. So how can we build and maintain relationships?

Finding the right events

Relationships are the basis of everything we do in life. As human beings, we need relationships, we need other people. Networking can be a lot like dating. To be an effective networker you need to do your homework and take the time to research the right events and consider:

  • What do you want to get from networking?
  • Who can help me get that?
  • Where can I meet these people?

It's a two way thing

Networking is about give and take. Make relationships that are mutually beneficial connections.  Think about how you can help the other person and what you can do to support them. It might be as simple as giving your time. The most important thing is to be genuine and only to commit if you can actually help.

Be curious

Networking is not about pushy sales or handing out your business cards. Practise being curious. Do you like the person you are talking to and do you want to stay in touch?  Think - how can I help this person? Take the time and interest to listen mindfully. You are setting the stage for more authentic and long-term relationships. Powerful questions could include:

  • What is your biggest challenge at the moment?
  • What is that like for you?
  • What would you like instead?

If you can help them with the challenge they are facing you could ask persmission to share what you do by saying something like: If I could help you with that, would you like to hear more about it?

This is where you can do your ‘pitch’ and say a little bit about what you do. This is the gateway to exchange something in return for your help. If you are unable to help them directly, perhaps you could find a good prospect or lead for them.

Do follow up!

Often one of the biggest mistakes when building a network is not following up. Research shows that 60-80 per cent of people don't follow up. As 80 per cent of sales are made between the 5th and 12th contact, it pays to be persistent. Remember names and personalise the follow up. Use the curious questions to follow up constructively. Use the communication channel they prefer and set up reminders. It is good practice to follow up within the first 24-48 hours and, if there is no response, follow up later and then fortnightly for a month.

Some final tips to tackle networking challenges:

How do you extract yourself? Don't use an excuse like needing the bathroom or getting a drink. End the conversation politely and clearly. Say "Thank you, it was lovely to meet you. Have a great evening."

Breaking into a group: Watch for body language. Usually there is someone standing in a more open position that you can start a conversation with.

Remembering names: Repeat their name when introducing yourself, ask for a business card.

Don't start a conversation by asking "What do you do?" Ask questions that you are interested in e.g. "What brings you here?" "How did you hear about the event?"

'CONNECTION IS EVERYTHING' is the key message from Mary Jane. So start practising, have fun, stay open and enjoy the results!

Here's what our members had to say:

Took lots of useful tips away
The session was fun and I could appreciate the takeaway message
Gained new insights and knowledge
Mary Jane has transformed how I will approach networking in future and I cannot wait to try out her top tips!

Our grateful thanks to the Rail Industry Association for generously hosting this event for WTS London members.