Monday, November 17, 2008

And our survey says....

Just how many opportunities are left behind because of our fear of networking, or inability to create a networking strategy to guide our activity?

Last week I spoke at a networking event for the events industry for at the excellent facilities hosted by The Royal Society of Medicine at One Wimpole Street in the West End of London. There were over 200 people in the audience from the events industry, ranging from conference organisers, event travel firms and recruitment consultancies to venues and even the UK's leading Madonna tribute act!

It was interesting to find out what this group had in common. Thanks to the state of the art facilities at One Wimpole Street, I ran a quick survey.

Using a 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' format, I asked people to vote on a number of questions, using keypads by their seats. The results were interesting, if not surprising to me!

The primary goal of 74% of the attendees was to either meet new people or raise the profile of their business, yet 72% of them had come with, and were sitting with someone they already knew.

It would be fair to point out that this wasn't a scientific survey and the result might had been slightly different if we had held the vote in an open area with people standing and able to mix, rather than in a lecture theatre. How different would it have been though? Whether at networking events, conferences or seminars we do naturally head towards the people we know, into our comfort zone.

The reason is that we haven't set our primary goal before we come. If we did, it would be more natural to leave our colleagues and friends behind for the duration of the event. Yet most of us turn up without that clear focus in mind.

Only 14% of the people there admitted to having a clear vision for their networking, knowing where every event fits in. 27% simply accept invites on an individual basis. Despite this, 86% rate networking either as 'quite' or 'very important' as a business development tool. The vast majority were in the latter category.

These are worrying results. With so many people networking on an ad hoc basis, results are so much harder to come by for everyone. We need to move to a position where people understand what networking can bring to them and act accordingly, selecting the right events to attend and interacting positively to reach their goals.

A good understanding of the right way to interact with others can make a big difference. The session after my talk buzzed as people took up the challenge to open a conversation without asking 'what do you do'. Suggesting people don't use 'I'm going to the toilet' to close a conversation also left a lot of people standing with legs crossed, yours truly included!

It starts with the understanding of why you're there though. That's where a strategy makes all of the difference.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What do you want to see?

This article original appeared in The National Networker

This is the question being asked by a networking group in London in response to the global financial crisis, war in the Middle East and increasing environmental concerns.

Unhappy at the noise emanating from the media and from politicians, the committee of European Young Professionals (EYP) felt that the time is ripe for individuals to have their say. They believe that networks, backed by modern social networking technology, are best placed to make that happen.

Ronny Ellefson, a founder of EYP and their Creative Director, said,”We launched the We Want to See website as a response to the state of the world at the moment. From the economic downturn, through environment concerns, to the fear of terrorism, we knew that our colleagues, our friends and our families had an opinion on the current issues affecting our world, and thoughts on how to change and improve them.

“By creating the site, we wanted to provide individuals with a platform on which to highlight their ideas on how to solve the world’s current problems. “

Contributors to the site have been invited to post a short video about what they want to see.

So far, the ideas submitted include dreams of personal success ("I'd like to see my name as a style guru in every fashion magazine in the world"); hopes for the global economy ("I'd like to see the end of the credit crunch"); the altruistic ("I'd like to see it be mandatory for private sector organisations to give 10% of their profits to fund projects in disadvantaged communities") and the frustrated sports fan who's already seen his dream fulfilled (I’d like to see Tottenham Hotspur climb off the bottom of the Premier League table").

EYP is well placed to kick-start such a campaign with a wide range of opinions from people originating from all over the world.

Originally formed in Thailand in 2005 to provide networking opportunities for young expats, EYP came to London at the beginning of 2007. The UK branch boasts a membership of young professionals based in London but with nationalities ranging from Australian to Russian, Polish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian and Turkish. In fact, over 700 people from 40 countries attended the launch party in London in January 2007.

Nick Jonsson, a Swede who co-founded EYP in Thailand is the man who brought the concept to the UK.

“When I moved to London in 2006, I saw a similar need for a professional networking group to be set up in London. I found that even though London was filled with networking organisations, none were really focussed on young professionals and met my need to quickly establish professional contacts and friends. Using the model that worked so well in Bangkok and in partnership with contacts I had already made in London, we created a new chapter in London aimed at taking over the local networking scene.

“We launched EYP London at Cavendish No 5 in January 2007 and were thrilled with the turnout. In addition to the 700 people at the event, a further 200 “virtual” visitors attended in Second Life, an online community. We had rented a virtual island and had a launch event running concurrently, which we beamed into the event at Cavendish No 5 bar. It went down very well and we received fantastic feedback from both attendees and in the media.”

Since that launch, EYP has run regular events across London, all with a large turnout and tremendous buzz. James Swanston, EYP London’s Chief Executive since the beginning of 2008, said; “The real purpose of EYP London is to bring together professionals to create social networks and build business links.

“Our vision is to be innovative, supportive, creative, diverse and to offer a unique, valuable networking experience to all members - regardless of where they are from and their age. In fact, one of EYP’s points of difference from other networking organisations is that we have brought together a real mix of individuals from all industries – from banking and finance, PR, IT, entrepreneurs to dentists and doctors.”

With an average age of 30, EYP events take on a very social feel. Typically held in trendy nightclubs and with first drinks often sponsored, people go to their events primarily to have fun and make friends.

James continues, “What draws EYP members together is their strong desire to network and to gain experience – and friendships – within London.”

It is this mix of people and drive to be different that has led to the ‘We Want to See’ campaign. The network was keen to do something to create an impact to support Global Entrepreneurship Week in November and as part of their event that week, which is a flagship event for Speednetwork the Globe. Giving their members a say and encouraging people to speak out about their dreams for a brighter future (or better football results) seemed to meet that aim.

From there, it is hoped that the campaign will become truly viral, with people of all ages and backgrounds worldwide sharing their hopes and dreams.

“We hope that through the site, more individuals will feel empowered to discuss their ideas and views on solving issues within today’s climate,” says Ronny Ellefson. “The site also ties in with EYP’s ethos, which is aimed at supporting our members to make their ideas into a reality.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why Connecting is Not Enough

Social networking sites, such as Ecademy, offer great opportunities to business networkers and small business. But there is a danger that true networkers will be driven away by people who just don't get it.

On my Ecademy profile I invite connections from people who are genuinely interested in building a relationship with me. I try to deter connections from 'number crunchers', people who just want to build the number of people in their network in the misguided belief it makes them good networkers.

Unfortunately I receive a large number of connection requests and vacuous messages every day.

One I received this morning highlights exactly how not to connect online. I'll share some brief lowlights with you:

I sent you a contact request earlier; however, at the time I was not able to send messages. I have since became a PowerNetworker. Therefore, I wanted to send you a short message to tell a little more about myself.

That's so kind of this person. It's just what I need, to hear more about them when I have no previous meaningful connection with them.

I will spare you the two paragraphs and list of career biography that follow.

Some have asked me how I have added so many people to my network in just a few short weeks. The answer is that I have been working several hours every day at making contacts with as many people as possible. I want to build a wide network, and have been concentrating on that for the first few weeks

At least he's honest about playing a numbers game. It is absolutely frightening that someone would work several hours a day spamming people on social networks. What a dreadful waste of his time, and of the people being spammed. He goes on to explain how he then plans to deepen the relationships he has forged, but not how.

With close to 1000 contacts forged in two weeks membership, he has presented himself with an almost impossible task. Creating meaningful contacts and deep relationships out of a mountain of connections would be incredibly time consuming and difficult to achieve.

Surely it would have been just as easy to start with a few connections where there is an obvious synergy, whether work related or based around personal interest. From those connections, he could have developed some Champions, people who believe in him based on the relationship they have built because he has been able to focus his attention on them.

From there he would be introduced to and be able to connect with more people naturally. And his network would begin to grow both wide and deep.

He finishes his email with a flourish.

If you have need for any of my services here in the US, in Europe, or in other countries I hope I can help you. Also, if you know of others who could benefit from my services, I would appreciate you relating me to them.

The email is all about "me", "me", "me". Not once does he mention anything in my profile, ask what I do or how he can help me. And then he finishes off by asking for referrals.

Online networking is now infested with people who are only focused on themselves and how many connections they can collect. They forget the importance of Dale Carnegie's words, "people are interested in people who are interested in them".

Fortunately there are still a large number of great networkers on Ecademy and on other online networks. People are still there who will put your needs first, help where they can and not expect in return. These people are, however, in danger of being drowned out by the noise.

I don't blame this person for his approach. The numbers-based system utilised and promoted by most of the social networks makes it inevitable. But it will drive genuine networks away if we're not careful. And these platforms are far too valuable for that to happen.

Isn't it time that something changed?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Webinar - Discover how to generate more business from your networking

In association with Kintish, I will be running a one hour webinar on implementing a networking strategy for your business next Wednesday lunchtime.

Full details are available here.