Monday, January 30, 2017

How to Grow Your Network Without Going to Events

There are many people who dislike conventional face-to-face networking events, partly because they take up so much time but mainly because they are rarely enjoyable. Luckily there are also many ways to build a healthy professional network without ever attending any event that the organizers might describe as being primarily for networking. You may find that you get more and better connections elsewhere. Here are just a few ideas:
Conferences: Attend selected professional conferences related to your field, a field you would like to work in one day and, occasionally, some business that you have no connection with today. Plan ahead and make good use of the opportunities and you will come away with some healthy new connections. For the conferences not in your field choose a short, free event close to your home base. It will feel strange at first to be with people in a different business but you will be surprised what useful things you can discover.
Courses: Sign up for an MBA or some other course and if you participate actively you will bond with your classmates and make connections that will last a lifetime. Choose the school and course carefully to maximize the networking opportunities. Check how strong their alumni network is. Some schools have a very strong global network, some are weaker -- and if you manage a business school better make sure that your school passes this test.
Non Profits: Volunteer to work for or lead some sort of non profit like the local TEDx group, a professional organization, your school’s alumni group or whatever. This gets you visibility and many opportunities to make connections. The value of this kind of contact is that you work alongside someone but without the pressures of a corporate environment. 
Lunch Dates: Try organizing some lunch dates with people you don’t know. There are some apps that make this very simple, like Lunchback, where you can choose from a selection of people to lunch with. They also have an interesting AI tool called Lunchback Magic that connects people who have opted into the program for a weekly lunch.
Public Speaking: Learn how to be a popular speaker and find opportunities to speak at events. If you don’t ask for money this is quite easy. The advantage of speaking is that people come to you, so you meet people automatically. Everyone notices the speakers and they get all the company in the mingle afterwards.
Writing: Write articles and books and people will start to contact you for all sorts of reasons. These contacts are sometimes the start of fruitful connections. One of the pleasant side effects of writing my own book Payforward Networking is the number of people who get in touch with questions, requests for new chapters in the next edition, networking war stories to share and so on. Writing is hard work but the rewards are excellent.

Activity-Based Networking: Just meeting someone and exchanging elevator pitches is a terrible way to make connections anyway. Better to do something with other people so that they can see how you work, your attitude, your dependability and so on. Spend 54 hours with people at a Startup Weekend event and you will make some really solid connections with people who have seen how you work. And it’s fun. There are many other ways to get involved with other people through activities — perhaps helping to restore an antique airliner, building a replica of a mechanical computer and so on.
Classic networking events can be useful from time to time, but with so many other ways to connect with people it should be only part of your networking plan.

2017 Edition of Payforward Networking.  There's more about this and other networking techniques in the 2017 edition of Payforward Networking, available in both paperback and Kindle editions. You can get it from Amazon here:

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you would like lectures, interactive workshops, one-to-one coaching or writing about professional networking or related topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan at or 0046 730 894 475.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hard Work is the Secret of Convincing Presentations

How do I make a presentation convincing? This is a question that keeps coming up in coaching sessions and speaking workshops. I suspect that some people are hoping that there is some magical secret known only to the experts. But there is no magical secret. There are many techniques that you can use to make your presentations more convincing but all of them involve hard work. There are no short cuts.
What exactly are these techniques? To begin with you have to test all your ideas before you even start to create the presentation. You might have an idea in your head that you are sure is very convincing but it might not work with your audience. Perhaps they view it in a different context or there might be a step in the logic that is not clear. Test your ideas in conversations with colleagues and watch their reaction. Did they look unconvinced? Did they raise any objections? Did they disagree? Use this feedback to polish your ideas and keep testing.
When your ideas pass this first, basic test try presenting a draft version of your presentation to a test audience. Listen to verbal feedback and watch for any signs that people are puzzled or lost. Rework your content based on their feedback until you have a draft that works with test audiences.
After testing the ideas it is time to design the presentation itself. Create a presentation that is driven by stories and messages, not by the slides. Define your messages from the start and use the presentation to illustrate them, rather then presenting the content of the slides. Be ruthless in pruning unnecessary information, too, especially examples and stories that might be interesting but are not relevant. Building your presentation around a hidden structure is also a good idea. It helps you to remember where your are and it helps the audience to follow your logic.
There are some other practical techniques to keep the attention of people. Focus on your the words you say and not the slides. Just say your points and illustrate them with selected images on the screen. Never talk about the slides or, worse, simply comment them. Speak from memory and avoid looking at the screen. Look instead at the audience, maintaining eye contact. Make it easier for you to know what is on the screen behind you by placing a laptop somewhere in front of you and always use a clicker. Practice speaking using this arrangement until you can deliver the presentation without hesitation. If you have trouble memorizing your content perhaps it is too long and unstructured. Prune and restructure it until it is simple enough to memorize.
A convincing presentation is always the result of hard work. Put in the hours of preparation and practice, listen to feedback and you will always be more effective.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about speaking and other communication skills. If you would like him to coach you or deliver a speaking workshop for your organization you can contact him at or 0046 730 894 475.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How Encouraging Networking at Events Actually Works

At the Nordic Business Forum in Stockholm this week the organizers made serious efforts to encourage networking -- one of the key value adds for conferences like this. Among other things they had a designated area for Brella meetups arranged through the event meetup app Brella, with prizes for the most active networkers and they took care to promote networking from the stage.

Before the very first break the event moderator André Noel Chaker stressed the importance of being open to networking, displaying a diagram on the big screens showing how people should stand in open mingle groups to encourage other people to approach. This didn't work as well as it might. But he also told the audience to be open to meeting new people and invited everyone to commit to this. Borrowing from the "Commitment and Consistency" chapter of Robert Cialdini's classic textbook "Influence" he invited everyone to commit to this openness before leaving the room.

Did it work? Anecdotally it did. Since I have been teaching networking for ten years and literally wrote the book on the subject I am always interested in what works and what doesn't. My experience in the breaks is that it did work, though perhaps not in the way that you might expect. I doubt that anyone in the audience is really unaware that they should be open to meeting new people, but where the moderator's words succeeded is in giving the mostly Nordic audience -- all the people I met were Swedish or Finnish -- an excuse to talk to strangers. Several people opened conversations with words like "Since the guy told us to be open...", suggesting that otherwise they might have struggled to find an excuse.

So in a way the moderator's words did have some impact, perhaps motivating some people to reach out more but more likely helping to overcome people's discomfort when talking to a stranger. There is a useful lesson in this for all event organizers aiming to boost the networking at their conferences. And making the networking more effective makes the event more successful, so this should always be a top priority. Perhaps the attention given to this at the Nordic Business Forum has contributed to the growth of these conferences. At the first event in Stockholm this week there were a thousand people in the audience; most of the people I talked to were planning to attend next year. Count me in, too.

2017 Edition of Payforward Networking.  There's more about this and other networking techniques in the 2017 edition of Payforward Networking, available in both paperback and Kindle editions. You can get it from Amazon here:

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, practical workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about professional networking, influencing, speaking and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 730 894 475 or

Monday, January 9, 2017

How to Speak Without "Um"s and "Ah"s

Most people use some sort of filler sound when they are speaking. Often it is "um", "ah" or "er" though sometimes it is "and", "right" or something else. When it happens too often it is very distracting; even occasional fillers can sound unprofessional. One of the most common questions I am asked when I coach speakers is how to avoid using these fillers.
One way is to be better prepared. Fillers tend to come out when you are still thinking what to say and the thought isn't ready yet. If you have prepared and practised well enough your brain should not need this thinking time. But there are also some simpler, more "mechanical" cures.
Close your mouth. This solution is very simple but surprisingly effective for many people. When you have said something just close your mouth and open it again when you have something else to say. That way the fillers just can't get out. Leaving your mouth open in the gaps between ideas just makes it more likely that unwanted noises will come out.
Speak more slowly. Fillers tend to come when your mouth is ahead of your brain so you have gaps to fill while you think. Speak a little more slowly and your brain is able to keep up with your mouth, always being ready with the next idea without needing any filler noises.
Look at people. While you are speaking try maintain eye contact with people in the audience. Fillers tend to come more when you are looking in the air for inspiration, or looking at your shoes in embarrassment; they are much less likely when you are talking directly to someone.
In addition to these three techniques just preparing better and practicing will greatly reduce the fillers. Most people use them to cover the moments when they are thinking. If you have prepared well for a speech the words come more easily and you are never lost for words. Design your speech so that it can be delivered smoothly from memory and practice it until you can deliver it without hesitation. 

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan can help with one-to-one speaker coaching and speaking workshops for groups of people in companies and universities. He can also help to write or rewrite speeches. You can contact him at or 0046 730 894 475.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Speaking is Hard, But Anyone Can Do It.

One of the most common myths about public speaking is that you need to be born with some sort of natural talent for speaking. The good news is that this is not true. Anyone can learn to speak in front of an audience, competently and calmly enough to feel at home on stage. But there is a catch: to speak competently requires some effort. What appears at first sight to be natural talent is just the result of hard work; hard work learning the craft and hard work learning each talk or presentation.

Watching an experienced speaker at work this effort is concealed. Most are happy to let you believe that they can just stand up and talk without any preparation, but in reality there is always some preparation needed. Anyone who just walks up and starts talking is simply drawing on long experience and has a repertoire of content that they can deliver apparently without any preparation, simply because the preparation was done a long time ago.

Anyone can learn to speak if they make the effort. Given an intensive enough practice schedule this can also be done quite quickly, though never overnight. In some ways having little experience can be a benefit because there are no bad habits to unlearn. Coaching business people to make important talks and speeches I have noticed that many people used to business presentations are used to looking at the screen, which might work in a tiny meeting room but looks unprofessional on stage. Someone unused to speaking would simply learn to look at the audience from the start.

So how can a random person go from zero to hero in the shortest possible time? There are actually two separate problems. The first is to build hours of speaking experience. This is something that is hard to learn by reading books, so you need to speak as often as you can -- preferably with a real audience but at least in front of a coach, standing up in the closest possible approximation to a stage setup. When you have a specific event to prepare for it makes sense to work on that content during this phase, but if there is more time it is even more effective to prepare and deliver a number of different talks.

Once you have built some hours of speaking experience the second problem is to learn your content and practice delivering it until this becomes very smooth and professional. You might need to work on the content to make it easier to deliver and I strongly recommend designing the content for easy delivery from the start. Keep it short, keep it simple; keep it structured. Very often people make life difficult for themselves by writing a speech that is difficult to deliver.

In some ways public speaking is hard but it is also something that anyone can do if they make the effort to prepare. You would never dream of performing a concert using an instrument you have never tried and in the same way it takes much more work that you might expect. But this work will be rewarded in the end because you will feel better and boost your reputation. Being able to talk about what you do gives you a massive advantage over other equally-skilled practitioners who stay in the shadows.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

Andrew Hennigan does both workshops about public speaking and coaches speakers one to one. If you like to talk about these options you can contact him at or 0046 730 894 475