Being in private practice can be lonely. We spend most of our working hours on bookings, reports, planning, parent correspondence and calls, and, of course, assessments and therapy. In 2016, whole weeks went by where I didn’t speak to anyone other than my clients, their families and my admin staff. Quite ironic, really, given that one of our jobs is to help people develop their social language skills!
We’re a social species. Being on your own in your clinic – and stuck in your own head – for too long is unnatural and stressful.
Isolation can be de-skilling, too. You need a network of people you like, trust, and admire to bounce ideas off, test your own assumptions, and learn new things. Over time, a lack of social interaction can affect your motivation, the quality of your services, and the health of your business – especially if your business relies on local referrals and word of mouth.
Feel the pain and do it anyway
Now, as a rule, I hate networking. I have to stop myself recoiling from professional “networkers”. You know, smarmy “room workers” who look over your shoulder looking for more important people to meet while nodding and pretending to listen to you. And – middle-age alert – it’s also hard for me to summons the energy after a long day at work to go out, especially on a “school night”.
But, despite the risks and challenges, I’m determined to get out there more this year. I want to meet new people, exchange clinical and business ideas, and build better relationships with local business owners and the communities I serve.
Practical networking tips
So how do I plan to get out and meet and greet new people this year without hating myself in the process?
Here are some practical networking tips I’ve tried and tested over the years:
- Join a few different groups. Speech pathology networking events are great way to meet colleagues and exchange practice ideas. But try to go to other events, too, e.g. local Chambers of Commerce or business networking events.
- Formally RSVP to events. I feel guilty if I say I’ll go and then don’t. By RSVPing, I increase the chance I’ll go!
- Actually turn up: You’ve had a bad day? Feeling tired? Prefer to go home, put on your pyjamas and binge-watch Netflix? Me too. But go anyway!
- Be on time. Not just because it’s polite. But so social groups don’t form before you get there. (It’s much harder to break into an established group than to make your own as people arrive.)
- Small talk. Small talk is under-rated. It helps build trust and to uncover mutual interests. If you are terrible at small talk, spend a few minutes on the day of the event reading the news so you have a few “go-tos” to discuss in the event of an awkward silence. Avoid politics (especially now), religion and other polarising topics. Look for interesting good news stories of general interest, e.g. in the business, arts and entertainment, and sport sections of the paper. If you’re going to a speech pathology event, scan the latest edition of your association newsletter. If you’re going to a local event, scan the local rag. Some (more sophisticated) networkers suggest researching others’ social media profiles and setting up Google News Alerts for any “movers and shakers” attending the event.
- You’re not alone. Remember, you have something in common with almost everyone, even if it’s just the event and the room you’re in, or the fact you are in business.
- Buddy up. If you’re worried about being stuck alone all night clutching a drink, take a buddy, but don’t stay with them for the whole event.
- Be positive, enthusiastic, and energetic. Even if you don’t feel it initially. People are attracted to positive people.
- Smile, make eye contact, and be the first to say “hello”! Pay attention to their answer!
- Introduce yourself by talking about the value of what you do: if you are not good at explaining what you do to non-speech pathologists, click here to find a simple structure you can use to do it. Stress who you help, rather than your job title and expertise.
- Don’t argue: It’s never a good idea to get into a debate with someone you’ve just met, even if you are right. Even if someone says something inflammatory, try to keep emotions out of it and simply move on.
- If you say something embarrassing or offensive, admit it and apologise. I’m not unaccustomed to putting my foot in my mouth. When I do, I apologise immediately and unreservedly and make a joke at my expense.
- If you’re struggling to connect, look for others in the same spot. Find others who look just as uncomfortable as you are and join them.
- Act like a sub-host, rather than a guest. Introduce people to each other. Offer to get people a drink. Don’t wait for others to do all the heavy lifting.
- Pay attention to others. Express a sincere interest in what others have to say. Talk about what’s important to the other person.
- Turn off your phone and don’t text. This is particularly important if you use your device as a shield in social events.
- Ask for business cards and be ready to hand out yours. People tell me business cards are last season in the age of LinkedIn. But I love the ritual of exchanging cards – and it helps me remember names.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself! Networking is not a performance art. It’s about turning up and being generally interested in others. Don’t worry if your small talk falls flat, if you say something dumb, or if you don’t click with one or more of the other guests. Get back on that networking horse and have another go!
- Roane, S. (2016). How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections – in Person and Online. Harper Collins, Sydney, Australia.
- Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends & Influence People, available here. Well worth its $4. A good, practical, and quick read, even after all this time!