Since I left research for employment with a commercialisation consultancy, networking has become an essential skill for me. A consultancy business lives or dies on the strength of its network, and as Marketing and Communications Manager for gemaker, I feel this responsibility keenly.

In the research world, despite being somewhat of a socially awkward penguin, I found networking easy, because I was with my flock – I knew many of the people at the conferences and events I attended. Starting a conversation was simple too, because we shared a common passion (for science, not fish – these are metaphorical penguins).

Being relatively new to the technology transfer (a.k.a. commercialisation) sector, I’ve attended several events in the past year where I didn’t know anyone, and I find the thought of walking (or waddling) into a room and introducing myself to a bunch of strangers (or leopard seals, in my mind) quite daunting.

But with practice and planning, I am improving, so here are my top tips for any other penguins out there:

  1. Prepare  Read the program, ask the organisers for the list of attendees and figure out whom you want to meet before the event.
  2. Turn up early  Late may be fashionable, but turning up early has benefits too. Use the time to check the nametags. Arriving early also makes it easier to meet other penguins lacking conversation partners, before the crowd arrives.
  3. Break the ice and jump in  You don’t have to tap dance or regurgitate fish to start a conversation. I recommend neither of these approaches. Instead, simple questions work well: ‘May I join you?’ or ‘What brings you to this event?’
  4. Listen and learn  Don’t launch into a nervous gakker (a sound penguins make: see, you’ve learnt something already) about yourself and your business. Instead, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers to discover more about your new acquaintance and what they’re hoping to get out of the event. Hopefully, you’re the penguin they’re looking for. If not, perhaps you can point them in the right direction – and ask them to mention your name as the source of the recommendation.
  5. Perfect your elevator pitch  When asked to explain what you do, keep it short and relevant to your audience. I usually pitch gemaker as a flexible team of consultants who help startups, inventors and researchers to take their new ideas and technologies to market.  We help with market research, IP protection, commercialisation advice, marketing and business strategy, and grant applications.
  6. Don’t sell too hard  Networking is about relationship building. You can tell by the glazed look in the eyes when someone you are speaking to has lost interest. We’ve all been talked at during events. Don’t be that penguin. To regain the attention of your audience, demonstrate interest in them by asking another question and listening intently to their reply.
  7. Be specific  If asked, the more specific you are about what you do, and what you’re seeking, the better. Tell them the names of a few companies or organisations you’ve worked with previously, the type of work you’ve done, and the work you’re looking for now. This is a great way to find common ground with your conversation partner.
  8. Follow up  I read a great comment that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a positive exchange, ask your conversation partner for their preferred means of staying in touch. Some penguins like email or telephone contact; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. It’s best to reconnect within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.

As all penguins know, you can’t survive the winter on your own. I hope these tips will empower you to leave your lonely iceberg, dive into your next networking event and start some meaningful and productive relationships. Huddle up, penguins!

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