Welcome to our December 2015 newsletter: The value of networking

As Christmas looms, opportunities arise for catching up with people we may not have seen for some time.

It’s easy to knock back an invitation, but take a moment to consider whether you’re knocking back more than just a glass of cheap bubbly and a limp sausage roll.

Get ready to network!

We’d love your feedback via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam,

Jenni Metcalfe, Mary O’Callaghan (newsletter editor), Sarah Cole (on maternity leave),Sharon Connell, Jane Ilsley, and intern Jay Nagle-Runciman.


Creating networks for mutual benefit

By Jenni Metcalfe

For any network to work, it needs to offer relevant and mutual benefits for every participant.

This was the theme that dominated the panel discussion in a communication skills workshop we ran in Perth for 16 African biosecurity fellows who are part of the newAustralia Africa Plant Biosecurity Partnership.

Econnect workshop - biosecurity network

On the panel were Bill Magee (Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre), Cathy Reade (The Crawford Fund) and Brian Nfosu (the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa—COMESA).

They pointed out that successful networks:

  • have members who face common or similar problems
  • regularly share ideas, contacts, successes and failures
  • use a mix of methods to communicate among members, from one-on-one discussions about sensitive issues through to social media for more public matters
  • thrive on informal rather than formal discussions
  • rely on people who are passionate about solving shared problems and finding common solutions.

After the panel discussion, the workshop participants, from 8 different African countries, discussed in groups what they wanted from their new network.

The benefits they saw from being part of the network were being able to:

  • maintain safe trade between countries
  • share information on plant biosecurity issues and experiences
  • share problems and get feedback from experts
  • detect pests early and notify each other
  • share skills in diagnosing pests
  • get information on market access, training and funding.

Running a network

By Toss Gascoigne

A shared problem or a shared idea is the starting point for a network.

The best networks work naturally—people want to belong because they get something of value.

It might be that they can discuss ideas, ask questions, learn from others and come together, whether in person or via the internet.

The Network for the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST)  links 2200 people from 80+ countries.

A network can be informal (‘let’s meet for drinks every Friday night on the verandah’) or formal.

A formal network needs a clear statement of intent—what is its purpose and what sort of issues are in scope / out of scope?  Write this down, as a set of rules or a formal constitution.

Some networks have an online discussion group, where members can post messages to publicise events, seek advice or share useful articles. The list can be moderated to screen out inappropriate messages, or un-moderated to allow all members to post messages freely.

In-person meetings can range from conferences to informal regional meetings with a guest speaker. People value being able to meet colleagues, and it makes subsequent digital interaction more productive.

Having a dedicated website is a simple and important way of promoting the network to potential members, as long as the content is lively and fresh.

All networks need a person or group to drive them. The chair, or convenor, is responsible for seeing that the network runs smoothly; their tasks might include:

  • setting the time and venue for the next meeting, and informing members
  • leading a small committee to run the network and manage any finances (for example, to set up a website and an online discussion group)
  • checking with members to find out whether the network is meeting their needs.

Build rapport and open the door

By Sharon Connell

Strong networks are founded on the quality of the interpersonal relationships you create.It’s all about building rapport.Rapport is a state of harmonious understanding with a person or group that allows you both to communicate more, and more easily.

In my career, I have delivered social marketing and extension programs, generated media publicity and created new business opportunities. My success has been based upon my ability to build rapport with others, which has led to my establishing strong networks.

Here are a few important pointers for building that initial rapport:

  • Humility – Nothing impresses people more than a person who is down to earth, non-judgemental and non-threatening in their professional capacity. Be co-operative, not competitive.
  • InterestActive listening and showing interest is fundamental to building an initial connection. Non-verbal communication, such as eye contact and positive body language, plays a big part.
  • Empathy – Exchanging a personal or professional story that shows you relate, and that validates the other person’s point of view, also builds the connection.
  • Humour – Keeping the mood light and sharing a laugh eases the nerves and breaks down barriers. It also sheds a little light on you, the person, as being more than just a professional.
  • Capacity – It is important to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable, competent and have the capacity to be relied upon to deliver.

Once you have built rapport, you have opened ‘the door of potential’ to establishing a working relationship and building up a strong network.

Then it’s time to start talking about what you would like them to do for you; for example, you might be pitching your story to a journalist or pitching an idea for collaborating.

Clinmate Champion farmers are great networkers

Farmers in the MCV Climate Champion program excel at building rapport—sharing a story, actively listening, being down-to-earth and knowing what they are talking about. Enduring friendships and strong alliances have been forged.

The accidental networker

By Mary O’Callaghan

I went to the Brisbane launch of Mary Norris’s book, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, last week.

Norris is a copyeditor at The New Yorker—a job lusted after by editors the world over. And we editors descended on the little bookshop like a squadron of mosquitoes to an Irishman’s ankles.

What we all wanted to know, apart from the goss on Philip Roth and what grammar high priestess Eleanor Gould was really like to work with (‘terrible bitch’), was how the hell this girl from Ohio got a foot in the door of the esteemed literary mag.

Well, back in 1978 Norris’s brother was taking portrait classes in New York and there he befriended a classmate who happened to be married to the chairman of the board atThe New Yorker.

Which is not to say that Mary Norris was handed the job on a platter; she wasn’t. But the connection was made and she doesn’t deny that it had a hand in changing her life forever.

This anecdote reminded me of how subtle and serendipitous ‘networking’ can be; how a chance encounter can change lives; how it pays to treat everyone we meet with respect and curiosity.

I confess I’m intimidated by the big, scary flesh-pressing kind of ‘networking event’. Yet I’m completely at ease bantering with the barista, the butcher, the bloke in the queue next to me.

These tiny social encounters inherently have value—I always feel that they add a little pep to my day, which is probably because social connections make us happy. And who knows where they can lead.

In the Harvard Business Review article, Networking for introverts, introvert Dorie Clark claims that networking is fun when you match it to your strengths and interests.

She offers introverts these tips:

  • Create your own events. Clark prefers hosting joint dinner parties with a friend to enduring a boozy harbour cruise with a big group of strangers.
  • Understand when you’re at your best. Clark is not a morning person and struggles to psych herself up for breakfast networking events. She refuses any meetings before 8 am or after 9 pm.
  • Rate the likelihood of connecting. Is it worth it? Who’s likely to attend and do you want to meet them? Are there better ways to spend your time? How long will it take you to re-energise?
  • Calibrate your schedule. After the emotional drain of meeting people, make sure you’ve got days where you can do the kind of work that allows you to recharge.

PS The Comma Queen’s series of short videos are worth checking out if things like comma placement and split infinitives set your heart racing.

Quote of the month

“I think women are really good at making friends and not good at networking. Men are good at networking and not necessarily making friends. That’s a gross generalization, but I think it holds in many ways.”
― Madeleine Albright