Networking is hard. How can we build on existing skills?

A female deaf colleague and I were discussing networking the other day. It’s a vital part of our professional lives, yet we both find it hard. One of us is freelance and the other works for local Government. We usually manage by sticking to the people we know, and hoping others will gravitate toward us, rather than vice versa.
Do you have any advice on how we could build on existing networking skills, so we thrive rather than survive in important work/social situations?

Mark, Liverpool

Deafauntie says:
Networking is a hot topic amongst deaf professionals. For most of us, it’s a toughie. Even hearing people find it difficult. If it’s not easy for them, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Most people network with people they already know. A few years ago, I heard a professional networker suggest looking at people and seeing what they have in common with you – a beautiful necklace, a sport that interests you – then approach them.
As a deaf person, my priorities are different. I prefer to scan the room, and see who looks easy to lipread, then go over to them. Usually, if those people are easy to lipread, they tend to be generous too anyway.
I like your comment, ‘thriving not surviving’, but sometimes surviving is all we can do. I look forward to what others have to say on this topic.

4 responses to “Networking is hard. How can we build on existing skills?

  1. I have always found the ‘fear factor’ hard to get over – what happens if I’m in a situation where I end up talking to someone I can’t understand? As Laraine always tell me, you just have to try and be confident and assertive in explaining your communication needs if you don’t understand. What’s the worst that could happen?!

  2. I know the feeling, it’s a long hard drag, trying to convince people about taking on my services as an artist/sculptor. I had built up a folio of councils and government-based groups who were interested in doing art projects with me. Then when this so-called coalition came into power and told all councils and government-linked businesses to cap their spending – the first things to suffer were art projects!

    They told me that they could not go ahead with any work, as the art departments were one of the first to feel the impact. I was devastated! It took me months and months of emailing and meeting influential people, to work out projects. Of course, my morale and confidence took a real battering as a result of that. Glad to say, I’m slowly getting back on my feet again, with a couple of small projects at the care home where my Mum is (suffers from Alzheimers), and hopefully take it from there. I’m also writing a book (fantasy/horror!) and I find it’s helping my confidence massively. Already I have another book in the pipeline!

    So really, I consider networking tough but once you get into the rhythm of emailing and meeting co-operative people – who you can either sign to or lip-read, then that makes a BIG difference. Determination and being assertive – try to take control of the meetings yourself and not be led by others. That way, you create a strong impression that you DO mean business!

  3. Hi Mark. Networking is very important, especially for a freelancer.

    Face-to-face networking is obviously going to be hard for a deaf person. Make sure you take full advantage of gadgets like personal listeners. The latest ones are very effective.

    These days, though, face-to-face networking is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s all about networking on the internet. So my advice is to make good use of tools like Linkedin to let people see your CV and credentials. Then there’s Facebook. If you haven’t already done so, think about setting up a Facebook account dedicated to your business. Many freelancers go one step further and set up a website. There are plenty of tools available to help you do this.

    Have eye-catching business cards made. And ensure you distribute them at any networking events you attend. Signpost your Facebook id, Linkedin id and your website on the cards.

    Similarly, collect email ids and business cards of as may prospective clients as you can. Contact them by email and suggest a one-on-one meeting, explaining that you have a hearing loss and that one-on-one meetings are much easier for you to deal with than crowded networking events.

    Bottom line: because face-to-face networking is a challenge, make sure you make the best possible use of other means of networking as well.

    Good luck!

  4. With my careers consultant hat on, I am always talking about networking. One tip is to memorise ten questions aimed at finding things out about the other person and making a connection – What’s your line of work? What do you enjoy about it? etc. As you become more practised at this, you’ll come across as a polished networker with the confidence to go up to people and encourage them to open up to you. Try practising at entrepreneurial events – where everyone will be particularly keen to talk about their ideas!

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