by George Slaughter
Senior Technical Writer, The Integrity Group
In turbulent economic times, the value of networking takes on an even greater importance than it otherwise has. The following five tips can make your networking more effective.
First, master your “elevator speech,” your one-sentence response to someone who asks what you do. For example, you might say, “I’m a technical writer.” While your statement might be accurate, it might not resonate with the person to whom you’re speaking, and it might result in a missed opportunity to make a connection.
Writer Bob Bly, in a recent video prepared for American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI), offers a three-part approach to developing your elevator speech. You begin with a question; next, explain what you do; and then state the benefit. Here’s an example:
JOHN: “Marsha, tell me about you.”
MARSHA: “John, you know that companies must protect their computer networks from viruses, right?”
MARSHA: “I create documentation that supports the software that those professionals use. This documentation helps them save time, money, and headaches.”
Second, make the most of business cards. Have your business cards ready to hand out at every opportunity. When you receive a card from someone, write on the back of the card any pertinent information, such as where you met this person, reminders to follow up as needed, and so on.
If you’re between opportunities, create your own business cards. Software programs enable you to create such cards easily. Be sure to include relevant information—name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, and web site, if possible.
Be careful not to go overboard with graphics. One colleague has a business card with a picture of a Renaissance-era writer at his desk and the caption, “In the tradition of the old masters.” It’s a nice touch and might serve as a marketing slogan, but it is unnecessary relative to his goal of communicating that he’s a writer.
If you’re creating your own business cards and are using your personal e-mail address, use a professional address, not a frivolous one. For example, one would use email@example.com and not firstname.lastname@example.org.
Third, make the most of social media. When researching a potential employer, job seekers first look at that company’s web site, along with news sites featuring information about that company. (If a company lacks a web site, you might question that company’s legitimacy in the first place.) On a personal level, social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and having one’s own blog or web site enable you to share your story your way. You control the content.
As with a personal e-mail address, you must design your sites to present a positive, professional image. Prospective employers can and do check these sites. Last season, a University of Texas football player was dismissed from the squad because of offensive statements on his site.
Fourth, perform at least one networking activity a day. This kind of activity is often neglected, unnecessarily, in the daily press of business. Such an activity might include attending a professional association meeting or luncheon—either in your own association or with a group of people you wish to know better. It could be forwarding a professional article that you think might be of interest, either printed or online, to a colleague. Include with the article a brief note, such as, “Nicole, thought you’d enjoy this article,” and your signature.
Such activities take only a few minutes each day, but they provide you the benefit of keeping your name in front of people. It prevents the “out of sight, out of mind” situation that happens far too frequently today. And you won’t feel overwhelmed by trying to keep up with a long and growing list of contacts.
Finally, keep an open mind. Talented writers write about any number of subjects. For example, you might be asked to write about nanotechnology, even if you are not writing about it today. When you meet people in professions with which you’re not familiar, take the time to learn about those fields. What do professionals in that field read? Do they meet, or have a professional association, and if so, what are the details? What kind of informational materials, or other services that you could provide, do these people need to be successful? How can what you’re doing be of benefit to these individuals, their companies, or their profession? When you forward articles to these people, use the opportunity to establish an ongoing conversation.
By following these tips, you can more effectively keep your name in front of other professionals in your field and set the stage for future opportunities.