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Workshop Reveals Keys to Effective Networking



Workshop Reveals Keys to Effective Networking

By Nicole Clarke

A research scientist is constantly confronting new and difficult obstacles. For many researchers, however, the most daunting challenge has nothing to do with work in the lab. Efficient and confident networking is vital to a scientist’s career, yet many find it an arduous aspect of the profession.

Ahead of ResearchFest 2012, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows on the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) were preparing more than just their posters. Many were fine-tuning their communication skills for the event, which offered a prime opportunity to form critical bonds with scientific peers.

Efficient communication and networking was the topic of the workshop presented on October 18 by Sheri Resnick, Human Resources analyst at Scripps Florida. Resnick volunteered to host the workshop to help TSRI scientists prepare for key networking opportunities.

“There is no luck,” Resnick emphasized throughout the seminar. “It’s all about preparation; you can’t wait until you need something to start networking. Think early and come up with a long-term strategic plan.”

The workshop highlighted several ways to prepare before, during, and after a networking event.

Advance Preparation

Effective communication starts long before a networking event. Similar to scientific research, one of the most important aspects of successful networking is preparation. The workshop addressed several helpful steps to take before attending any networking event.

Perhaps the most important step is working on your “elevator pitch.” An elevator pitch is a brief (30 seconds or less) summary of who you are and what you do. An effective pitch captures attention by explaining your work on a large scale, i.e., how you are affecting the world. Technical terms and exhaustive details of your research are not appropriate in this situation. A well-constructed pitch should succinctly explain your work in broad terms anyone can understand, while providing enough information that your listener may want to ask questions.

In addition, whenever possible, find background information on the event attendees. Especially at large events, knowing whom you need to meet and why you need to meet them is vital to building valuable relationships in a limited amount of time. Understanding your needs, whether they are leads about open positions, start-up costs or grant funds information, exploratory interviews, or simply feedback on research ideas, is key. Once your needs are established, determine who at the event might help fulfill them.

Where can you get background information on event attendees? Many times, event hosts will provide pre-assignment information about attendees and where they will be located. If this information is not already provided, contact event hosts and request it.

Show Time

Forming significant relationships at networking events requires two fundamental skills: the ability to positively portray both yourself and your research, and the ability to interact on a personal level.

The first skill relies heavily on the aforementioned elevator pitch. A confidently delivered, efficient pitch captures your listener’s attention and opens the door for deeper discussion. Using networking events such as ResearchFest to practice your elevator pitch will help you become more comfortable with its delivery. Remember, practice makes perfect!

The second skill, effective personal interaction, is often more difficult than technical discussion. Building meaningful relationships demands a certain degree of small talk. Resnick emphasized the importance of being yourself during social interactions, as this will allow you to engage more comfortably in conversation.

If small talk is not your forte, Resnick introduced a simple exercise to help master the art of communication. Workshop attendees were directed to write down questions they would like to answer about themselves, whether about jobs, families or even travel. These questions, Resnick revealed, are the keys to effective small talk. Use these questions as “starter questions” to initiate natural conversation.

Follow Up

Successful networking does not end once you leave an event. Following up with your connections is crucial for establishing and maintaining significant relationships.

Write an email to connections immediately following an event. Consider beginning your message with something like, “I enjoyed out conversation at ResearchFest and am extremely interested in (X).” An effective follow-up will continue the conversation, building upon the foundation set at the networking event.

If the connection is local, consider inviting your contact to an event or presentation. If you offered to do something for your contact, do it as soon as possible. This will both demonstrate your reliability and make your connection more likely to help you in the future. Remember, valuable relationships are a two-way street; Resnick stressed the importance of always considering what you can bring to a relationship.

The advice presented in the networking workshop at TSRI not only prepared its attendees for the upcoming ResearchFest, it also outlined timeless skills critical to prepare for any networking situation. “Effective communication transcends all careers,” Resnick concluded. “No matter what you do, ‘luck’ is simply preparation meeting opportunity.”

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“You can’t wait until you need something to start networking,” advised workshop leader and TSRI Human Resources Analyst Sheri Resnick. (Photo by Nicole Clarke.)