How to get Networking Working

Kathleen Bury Photo 1 copy

Kathleen Bury is the Mowgli Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer and holds a BA Hons degree in Business and Quality Management from the Nottingham Trent Business School, UK.  With a strong background in several industries, her 13 years of experience includes management consulting, market analysis, energy, entrepreneurship, communications/marketing, knowledge management, process design, event management and writing. Having worked predominantly within start-up organizations and teams, Kathleen has a robust understanding of the SME sector and the challenges that entrepreneurs and SMEs face today when setting up and growing their businesses as well as the need and benefit of mentoring.


What is networking and why is it important to you?

Networking for me simply means connecting with others to build communities. This connection gives me the pleasure of being able to explore and discover who I want to nurture and build deeper trust based relationships with, so that I can ultimately develop and build my ideal community around me and in turn help others build theirs. It is an exchange which involves give and take. Networking also helps me to feed my learning junkie side as through these conversations I am exposed to new knowledge, experiences, and ways of thinking and/or doing things, which simply brings new opportunities.

 

What was it about networking that you found difficult?

From the time when I could start talking, my parents gave me the nicknames ‘motor-mouth’ and ‘chatterbox’. I was a very outgoing child and could walk up to anyone and talk to them. When we used to visit the vegetable souk in Doha, Qatar, where I grew up, my mother would often lose me, only to find me contently sitting and chatting to the ladies selling their fruit and vegetables. From about the age of 10, I accompanied my father on his business trips, attended business dinners and meetings. He believed that this would be good exposure for me. As much as I might not have always enjoyed it then, I certainly appreciate the value of it today, as I was able to meet and learn how to engage with people from all backgrounds, cultures and strata in society. During these encounters I would observe how he and others would connect and begin, structure and close out conversations and nurture his personal/business relationships and wider network.

 

As I began growing up and facing certain challenges at school, I began to lose my carefree nature and retract into my shell, becoming a very shy person. Even to this day, I can still be quite shy in certain situations, although those who know me don’t believe me when I say that. I love connecting with people and fully believe in the importance of building a network or community around myself. So about 5 years ago when I left oil and gas consulting, I worked hard to understand what was holding me back from building an effective network for myself in the way that I wanted to. With a fair amount of reflection, I realized that my shyness only really showed up when I had to break the ice with someone. After that, I was generally quite good at holding my own.

 

How did you develop your networking skills?

I embarked on a self-awareness journey to understand the interferences within me that were holding me back – project Ice Breaker. Throughout this process, I learnt that my personal value of wanting to always add value was putting undue pressure on me from the get go. I realized that I needed to say hello and let the conversation flow and add value within the conversation, rather than from the hello. As with many things, if you have a passion for something, you tend to put more effort into it. So I began networking in communities that centered on things that I was passionate about and I found my willingness to put myself out there, by breaking the ice first, increased. As a global nomad, I never really saw my life and the experiences that I had had as being that unique. That was until I moved to New York, USA for a few months and I realized that when I shared experiences or snippets from my life, people were intently listening to me and asking for more stories, because they were different. I realized that I needed to celebrate who I was and the experiences that I fortunately had, rather than trying to shape myself into someone that I thought others wanted to see and hear from.

 

I sought support from my mentors including my father, who I continued to accompany to business meetings and my mother. I used to watch how people sadly did not either wish or know how to connect with her simply because she was in a wheelchair. Through her humour, humility and warmth, I learnt how she made people feel comfortable around her so that they could engage with her and see the immense value that she brings to those around her.

 

My mentors worked with me to address my shyness and ultimately my fear of just being me and not feeling worthy enough to walk up to someone and introduce myself. They also helped me to discover when I did feel comfortable in networking situations. Through this exercise, I realized that I do have a little bit of a control freak within me and so when I’m the host of an event, particularly one that is in a personal setting, I love networking. So I decided to push the boundary of my comfort zone and set up my own social networking group that enabled me to be the host, meet friends and meet new people who my friends invited. In essence, I put myself into a situation where half of me would be and the other half wouldn’t be comfortable to build this skill and my confidence. It definitely worked.

 

Many of us find meeting people who are of a certain level of seniority or stature nerve-wracking. I did too and then I realized that we are all uniquely the same and that I am not the first one to fear breaking the ice, maybe they did too. I began to view them as people and approach them to learn from them rather than impress them.

 

Attending conferences and events can be an ice-breaking nightmare. So here are some of my top tips that I still use to this day:

  1. When possible I try to attend conferences and events with people that I know so I don’t feel alone. Having someone you know in the room, doesn’t only mean that you have a fall back person but they can also boost your energy in what can be emotionally tiring exercise
  2. If I do attend them on my own, I use the ‘stand by the coffee/refreshment area’ trick and speak to the person next to you. A simple good morning and a smile is enough to break the ice which may lead into a conversation and future introduction
  3. I make sure that I am prepared before going to an event by clearly identifying my objectives for attending, knowing my opening lines or elevator pitch for the focus of the event and/or people I want to meet and completing the profile on the conference app (if available)
  4. Setting goals also helps you prepare for networking situations. If you want to speak to a certain number of people or a particular person, make it an objective so you will have the extra motivation to get it accomplished.

 

What is the most important thing about networking that you have learned from your experience?

I don’t pretend to be a networking guru as I am still on my journey. However, I was reminded of a key lesson just a few months ago when I attended a philanthropy-focused conference in Rwanda. One of the speakers of the conference is a really high profile individual and philanthropist who is not only a highly successful businessman, but has an abundance of humility, humor and zest for life. This makes him a larger-than-life character with a certain air that is respected globally. Coincidentally I found myself on the same plane as him and his wife. As we were waiting in the visa queue, I simply said good afternoon, smiled, asked if he was going to the same conference and helped his wife who was struggling with walking and carrying her bag. The next time I saw him he gave me a strong handshake, a beaming smile and a hearty good morning followed by a breakfast discussion. The art of networking doesn’t stem from a job title or always saying the right thing, I believe it stems from just being you, from giving and and how you make others feel.

 

 

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