Oh, ‘networking’, that mucky word that has people either reaching for their business cards or frantically thinking of excuses why they simply can’t attend that event or function.

Don’t be scared. Embrace it. But be true to yourself in doing so. And this is why:

Networking connects people together, and this connection may or may not bear fruit one day. It doesn’t necessarily mean winning a contract or making a newbiz contact but meeting someone new who enriches your life in any way – an insightful comment, an experienced operator, or tips or tricks for doing better business. Networking, especially online, is an opportunity to learn, share and gain insight as much as gain contacts, business or even find a new job! Getting to know people truthfully could lead to the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship, especially if you have enough in common to stay in touch.

Many people are afraid of networking, but we network every day – with our family, colleagues and friends. It’s no worse that walking into your local boozer or wine bar and introducing yourself to your mate’s mate (in fact, you’ll be surprised that in practice it’s actually a lot easier than that). Just prepare a little patter to explain who you are, what you are about and maybe what you do. Keep it short, make it entertaining if possible, and see if what you are saying registers at all or if their eyes glaze over.

You already know the net worth of your network? In what way has your network brought benefit to you personally or professionally. That is its true net worth. If you throw out a post or question, do people respond, or react? Will they help you? You can calculate time saved, costs saved and corners shortened by going directly to your network for help, answers or suggestions but networks must work both ways. As so often in life it is better to give than receive so be generous with your support to your network and you will reap your reward.

10 features of a networker with high net worth

  1. They ask ‘what do you do?’ Keep it friendly and the questions wide open
  2. They listen to you. Come on my course and learn all about active listening
  3. They link what you say to themselves. No left-field subject changes but a natural flow
  4. They speak about themselves, but they keep short and memorable, even entertaining
  5. They make contact info handy, so no rummaging in handbags or searching back for the elusive email signature
  6. They show ‘clear and interested’ communication or body language – nothing confusing,  threatening or seemingly disinterested, no one-syllable answers or emails
  7. They mingle and move on with ease so you don’t feel dumped, dismissed or ignored
  8. They always follow-up, when there’s a reason to do so or if it would be welcome
  9. They stay in touch without being ‘in your face’ and pestering
  10. They make the effort to go to events and functions, regularly

Whether you like it or not, if you work in business, then you have to build a strong network (and LinkedIn in makes it so easy; sites like Meetup.com are also invaluable for finding new events in your field of interest). If you want to sharpen your networking skills, add a little sparkle to your conversation, overcome your fears of walking into a room full of strangers or build your confidence in how to meet people (or get away from people) then come on my networking course which is run by the PRCA. It’s half a day of hilarious fun and by the end everyone leaves the room brimming with ideas and confidence.

Finally, if you want more tips on networking, check out our MD Phil Szomszor’s blog post on sociable business networking – it was written back in 2010, but the advice is just as relevant today.

When I was asked to speak on one of the Bright Festival’s speaker panels, by James Uffindell Founder and CEO of Bright Network, I did what I always help my clients to do pre event: I did my homework.

And I found out via social media that the day’s host, Oli Barrett is a friend of a friend – such is the connected world that we live in.  What’s more, I found something in his Twitter profile that really resonated: a comment that “life is a search for people”.  This statement is very apt for my career in PR and the lessons I have learned, and also provided a huge amount of inspiration for my speech preparation to be part of the “How I Made It” panel.

The “How I Made It” panel discussion was just one of a huge host of events that the Bright Festival organisers had put together in an event attended this week (on 17th September) by 35 employers (including Booz & Co, innocent and Goldman Sachs) and over 1,000 members (from Times Top 20/Russell Group universities).

I spoke on the panel along with a Managing Partner from Ernst & Young, a Managing Partner at Bain & Company, and a Principal at Booz & Company.  We were chaired by Katie Ledger, who spent 12 years working as a news presenter for Five News, ITN and BBC and is now a communications consultant and presentation coach.

From all of us, our audience of around 200-300 recent and future graduates wanted advice based on our own career experience.  As I prepped for the session, front of mind was of course how to best make use of the audience’s time and on the impression I wanted to leave behind.

I am now twelve years into my PR career. And I am back at the agency that I started at, but having worked at four other agencies along the way.  In this time I have learned a lot about people – but more importantly I have learned a lot about networks.

And this at a time where networks have become social, and the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Pinterest and more makes networking an altogether different, easier (I would say, if more time-consuming) ball game.

So it will come as no surprise that I turned to my network, to help me to prepare my answer to such a big question as, “How I Made It”.  And I received back some gems from my supportive and inspirational friends and contacts.  These included:

Sharing such great advice, along with my own insights, I hope added colour to my presentation for my audience; not to mention more value than just one set of insights and advice.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, James Uffindell – the CEO and Founder of Bright Network – is someone I have known since university; a real case in point of a contact, nurtured!  And we have a new intern joining us this month, as a result of seeing Firefly Communication’s name on the speaker panel and getting in touch; so a real case of a network expanded!

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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