Using speed networking techniques to find the right institutional partner

Using speed networking techniques to find the right institutional partner

Strategic partnerships are increasingly important resources for international higher education institutions. Following up on a blog post on networking to reach individual goals, we now zoom into networking to reach institutional goals. As you prepare for the 27th Annual EAIE Conference in Glasgow from 15 to 18 September, here is a handy step-by-step little guide to help you capitalise on all the amazing institutional-level networking opportunities you’ll encounter.

As international education professionals and representatives of our institutions, we attend a variety of conferences, seminars, workshops and trainings throughout the year. This gives us numerous opportunities to meet counterparts and peers from other institutions. How often do you find yourself at a networking event at a conference or other professional gathering, where you meet a counterpart whom you think would make a good institutional partner? Or, perhaps you’ve just met a representative of a university that is relatively unknown to you, but he or she is expressing enthusiastic wishes to link with your institution.

“Could this be a significant opportunity that I should pursue, or am I wasting my time?” you might wonder. In such a networking setting you’ll need the right skills and tools to make a swift assessment of the prospects, exchange relevant information quickly, and establish a plan to continue communications. Or, if the prospect does not seem worthwhile, you’ll need the conversation skills to extract yourself and move on. After all, there are other contacts at this event for you to engage with.

At a networking event, you want to move as efficiently as possible from casual chatting to the heart of the matter. You will need to gain important information and insight, assess the prospects on the spot, and discover whether or not this conversation can lead to a new partnership opportunity. Here are some guidelines on how you can achieve this rapid exchange of information and assess partnership potential.

Step 1: Plan and prepare

Before you attend the event, make sure you:
• Know what your institutional and personal goals are;
• Make sure to find out from colleagues at your institution what their priorities are and what they are looking for;
• Prepare a concise and clear introduction of yourself and your institution;
• Practise your elevator speech and make sure it is interesting, that you can deliver it well, and that you are able to adapt it to the right context;
• Bring enough business cards.

Step 2: Make your introduction

Once you are at the networking event, be ready to:

  • Make a point of initiating conversations rather than waiting until others approach you;
  • State your name immediately, clearly and with energy;
  • Say what you do and describe it briefly;
  • Say something about yourself and your institution that establishes what you have in common or makes you unique;
  • Make it a pleasant and friendly experience.

Step 3: Transition from small talk to partnership exploration

After introducing yourself and making small talk, you will need to transition the conversation into expressing what you are looking for.
• Identify your institutional needs to your conversation partner and articulate them clearly.
• Strategize together if and how your mutual needs can be met.
• Keep your mind open for any opportunities, for example with a different part or programme of your institution.
• Be able to state what your institution realistically can and cannot commit to;
do not overpromise.
• If a potential partnership seems promising, make sure to take the person’s business card and write a note on the back of it so you remember the exchange once you are back in the office.

You may find that the person you are speaking with, or their institution, will most likely not turn out to be a suitable partner. In this case, you have to move on. Extricate yourself so that you can continue to circulate.
• Don’t be afraid to ask, “If you can’t help me, do you know someone who can?”
• Make a graceful exit: finish a comment, smile and extend your handshake and say, “It has been nice talking with you.”
• If it has not been pleasant, you can simply say, “I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference,” and move away.
• Circulate in the room to ensure that you speak with a variety of people.
• Be bold and take control.

Step 4: Follow Up

After you return to your office, prioritise following up with useful contacts.
• Send a brief e-mail to remind them of your discussion and include any further information that you promised or which you think may interest them in pursuing a partnership.
• Contact colleagues at your institution to share your new contact if relevant.
• Include your new contact in your contact database, add them to list-serves or mailing lists if appropriate, but make sure not to spam them.

Networking is about exploring professional and institutional relationships, actively fostering contacts, creating ways to disseminate information, and identifying, articulating and meeting needs. With planning, clear goals and strong conversation skills you will be able to expand your partnerships in a meaningful way.
Christopher Medalis is Regional Educational Advising Coordinator, EducationUSA, USA.

This blog post was first published as an article in Summer Forum Magazine, EAIE, 2015.

For some real hands-on advice and practice on speed networking skills, join us for the pre-conference workshop ‘Networking secrets to maximise your potential’ chaired by Peter Kerrigan on Tuesday 15 September from 9:00–12:30, in Glasgow. To freshen up your memory on useful tips and tricks of speed networking, come to the ‘Speed networking: your gateway to crucial contacts’ session on Thursday 17 September from 10:00–11:00 at the EAIE 2015.