Learning to network with an expert

  • Power to the People (detail) - Nicholas Caulkett

What is networking? Talking to people. Networking isn't something you can only do in one kind of place or time – every time you're with others, you have an opportunity to network.

But it's not just about trying to get as much as you can out of another person. We tried a five-minute experiment to demonstrate this: Max suggested that everyone in the room pair up and try to persuade the other person to do something for them. Afterwards, some people had had some success, but many reported that the conversation didn't really go anywhere. Max suggested that this was because networking is more successful when it's relaxed, fun, and not 'predatory'. His two golden rules: 

1. Leave behind any expectations that you will get something from the other person. The point of socialising is just to have a good time and meet interesting people.
2. You have two ears and one mouth – use them in that proportion. Be a good listener. 

A useful listening technique is to pick out the last word or two of a sentence and repeat it back in an inquiring tone of voice. For example, if someone says, "I did a residency last year in Japan", you can say, "In Japan?" and before you know it they'll be telling you their life story. 

Networking isn't just about what you want to achieve. It's about goodwill. Max says, "My experience of having lived on my wits for 25 years is that goodwill always comes back to you. If you help others, they will help you." 

He suggests 'warm calling' rather than cold calling. If there is someone you want to speak to, find out if anyone you know can put you in touch, so that your conversation begins with some kind of first connection. Mention friends and contacts whenever you can. For example, if a friend recommends a small printing press, when you get in touch, make sure you say who told you it was a good idea to work with them. 

Keep track of all your contacts, however works best for you. An audience member said that he uses Google Contacts and finds it helpful; you can store contact details and add notes about them. 

Our attitudes drive how we interact with others, and therefore how we network. Your attitudes can come from your experiences, or your insecurities. Max says it's important to reflect on whether or not your attitude is helping you achieve your goals. Are you approaching networking in a relaxed and open way, or are negative ideas holding you back? 

Finally, Max encourages all of us to practice random acts of kindness. Be nice and helpful, and others will be nice and helpful to you.