The art of effective networking

The art of effective networking

Lunch-time Plenary Keynote speaker Heather White addressed the audience on the all-important issue of networking. We had the pleasure of catching up with her before the conference to get some exclusive contact-making tips and tricks for the readers of our blog. Heather is a true expert in the art of networking, so do take some notes! She’ll be teaching a practical, hands-on Life-skill session later today on ‘Making your LinkedIn work for you’ (don’t forget to bring your phones, computers or tablets), but we’ve got the scoop on some of her most important advice.

The conference week offers ample opportunities for participants to network with 5000 of their peers from over 90 countries. This is no small feat: a single stroll around the Exhibition, for instance, can save you dozens of hours in flights to forge new partnerships and exchange agreements. At the EAIE Conference and Exhibition, you have the whole world literally one hand shake away. Yet none of these opportunities can materialise without action.

Meeting strangers

Making new professional contacts is challenging whether you’re a newbie in the field or a full-fledged in internationalisation of higher education veteran. “Coming to these events takes a lot of energy. So the first thing to do is get into the right mindset and to have the willingness to stick out your hand to random strangers and know that that’s perfectly okay.” It’s key to remember that almost everyone present at the conference is looking for the same thing as you: to grow their network, learn something new and have a pleasant time. As Heather put it, “conferences give us what I call permission-based networking, no one will criticise you for approaching someone new”. It’s a carte blanche to talk to strangers.

Conference newbies vs. veterans

For newbies, doing research on who they’d like to meet in the field can be helpful. Cross-reference the list of participants and speakers with LinkedIn profiles and find out who you should contact. Moreover, “if you just happen to bump into someone you’d like to meet, especially if they’re a speaker, just ask them a question about their presentation”.

For veterans – who may already have established networks and see many good friends and familiar faces at our conference – it can be equally difficult to break away from the people they know. Heather’s advice is clear: “they can set themselves a target like ‘meeting five new people each day of the conference’ and they can achieve that through people they already know”. More importantly, veterans should “focus their efforts on thought leaders so that they can grow their network wider”.

Setting targets

Fully aware that “most people don’t really like networking, as it is a very strange thing to do”, Heather recommends setting specific targets for yourself before a large event like ours. Aside from working up the courage to speak up, Heather points to the importance of doing your homework: “you need to think about who it is that you want to meet and what types of networks you want to build”. In our field, the latter is of particular importance for partnership building. Rather than simply approaching random people, she says you should subdivide your targets into smaller tasks. Imagine your institution wants to expand its partnerships in a given world region: if you do some preparatory work, study the higher education sector and think up questions to ask the people you encounter from that region, half of the work is already done.

Making your LinkedIn working for you

Without giving too much away about her session this afternoon, Heather shared a practical, three-step approach to making the most of LinkedIn. Here is what she had to say:

  1. Link up with everyone you meet

We lose cards, we change jobs, but through LinkedIn, we always have access to the people we’ve met. Make sure to download the app on your mobile and send invitations as soon as you meet people.

  1. Work on your title and summary

Using your role as your LinkedIn title and not having a summary are some of the major LinkedIn ‘sins’ committed by users. Making your title and summary stand out are important ways to make the most out of your LinkedIn experience. ‘Admissions Officer’ may be your job today, but what are you good at? What are you an expert at?

  1. Be an active user

Posting often on relevant topics and engaging with LinkedIn content on your timeline doesn’t just make your name pop up on people’s timelines, it gives you more professional credibility.

All of these networking efforts have a greater purpose too. Heather is adamant that “the most important part of networking is making introductions”. Your efforts should focus on developing a “shared network which gives you access to resources, innovation, new information and ideas, widening out the overall opportunities”. Now, there’s an idea we can all stand behind!

We have a busy day of sessions and a night to remember at the EAIE Extravaganza – tickets will be sold at the door! Make sure to check back with the EAIE blog and all of our social media channels for the latest coverage of the conference. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for real-time updates and join the conversation on social media by using #EAIE2016.