After years of virtual events, most people’s networking skills could do with some polishing. AHRI’s Chair shares his top tips.
In-person events are an opportunity to immerse yourself in a rich learning experience. It’s dedicated, uninterrupted time for soaking in the expertise of fascinating speakers and facilitators.
You’re not half-listening to a webinar while also tending to an overflowing inbox. You’re in a physical space with your peers, who are equally engaged with the speaker on stage.
An equally important element of a physical event is the opportunity to broaden your network. Getting a group of people together – outside the confines of a laptop screen – has come to feel like a novel experience. So it’s time to remind ourselves of the value of face-to-face interactions once again.
Getting back into the swing of networking
Networking may feel awkward at first. Do we shake hands? How close should we stand to each other? Should we talk about COVID or not? But we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of these in-person connections.
Microsoft’s recent Work Trends Index found that 59 per cent of hybrid workers feel they have fewer friends since working remotely, and 55 per cent feel lonely as a result of this. That’s a significant portion of the global workforce that’s experiencing a lack of connection.
In-person events, such as AHRI’s convention, which kicks off today, are crucial to helping create connections and building relationships.
Some people reading this may feel they’re out of practice when it comes to networking. After years of being stuck at home, or being told not to approach people in public, there may be apprehension to confidently navigate a space predominantly filled with strangers. If you’re someone who sits in this camp, here are a few strategies that may help.
First, remind yourself that most people in the room have the same goal: to meet new, interesting peers. It’s important to remember that networking is a mutually beneficial experience.
Make the interaction personal so it doesn’t feel transactional. Avoid handing over your business card and launching into your elevator pitch as soon as you introduce yourself. This could cause the person on the receiving end to feel like you’re not interested in getting to know them.
Questions to ask of your peers
Don’t think that you need to demonstrate your HR expertise while having a casual conversation at a networking event. Part of what we’re hoping AHRI’s convention will do is further build a sense of community in our profession and industry. And that means developing genuine relationships.
A lot of virtual interactions are task or topic focused, but when you ask questions of someone’s interests beyond work, your interactions will start to have more authenticity.
“Make the interaction personal so it doesn’t feel transactional. Avoid handing over your business card and launching into your elevator pitch as soon as you introduce yourself.” – Michael Rosmarin FCPHR, AHRI Chair
Also, in a virtual environment people often feel it’s wrong to deviate off-topic to ask a tangential question. In person, that concern evaporates. In fact, you’re more likely to bounce off what people are saying. The discussions that emerge from this are often where the best conversations lie.
However, it can also be helpful to have a few go-to questions up your sleeve that go beyond ‘So, what do you do?’ For example, ask them:
- ‘What’s something interesting you’ve learned today?’
- ‘Who has been your favourite speaker so far?’
- ‘What are you hoping to get out of the event?’
- ‘What do you love about your job?’
- ‘How is your organisation responding to the hybrid work challenges that have emerged?’
- ‘What’s an interesting book or podcast that you’ve listened to recently?’
These should help you to spark rich and meaningful conversations.
Speak with passion
While you might avoid asking the ‘What do you do?’ question, it’s inevitable that it will be asked of you. So have a think about how you can answer in an interesting way.
Don’t downplay your role. Speak with passion and give the person a sense of what you love about your work.
In the future, if they’re filing through their mental Rolodex looking for someone to connect with, who are they more likely to reach out to: the person who said “I’m just an HR associate” or the person who said “I’ve taken on an exciting role as an HR associate and I’m really enjoying learning about how to help our business transform for the future”?
Networking is about building relationships and broadening your professional connections. So be present, demonstrate authenticity and curiosity, and enjoy it.
A version of this column first appeared in the August 2022 edition of HRM Magazine.
Want to learn more about building relationships with stakeholders? AHRI’s short course on internal HR consulting skills is a great place to start.