Pressing flesh. Rubbing shoulders. Making connections. Associating. Working the room. Seeking contacts for professional gain. Rubbing elbows. Schmoozing.
However you put it and whatever the extent of your participation (or derision) we all know what these terms mean. But it’s not often we see mainstream media with a story on business networking, still less a connection with the academic, so I was doubly surprised to hear that Cass Business School has just appointed the world’s first ever ‘Visiting Professor of Networking’. A glance at a couple of Julia Hobsbawm’s articles on the subject certainly make her a credible appointment: she seems to have a clear understanding, defining networking as “the hardest of soft skills”. Interviewed this morning, she described networking as having become “an engine of the economy… [be it at] Davos or the Chelsea Flower Show.” She also talked of networking as “transportable”, a form of “knowledge brokering”. And rather than regard networking as frivolous, she appealed to us to become “a nation of networkers”.
I’ve written before that the ancient marketplace where Greeks and Romans gathered to buy and sell were the precursors of today’s trade exhibitions. Whether you are visiting a small regional show or an international blockbuster at Dubai’s WTC, you are in the perfect arena to make new contacts in your industry as well as catching up with existing clients and finding new business.
Connecting through social media is now part of everyday life, available at our fingertips wherever we are. This year LinkedIn hit 150m registered users, 9m of them in the UK. Great to be able to look up an old college friend or your fellow delegates from that conference last week, but there is something authentic about physically being present with a person as opposed to their online representation. You get a sense of the real individual, the bigger picture of them as you see them reason, respond and react to you. It calls to mind the C20th greeting of “Nice to put a face to the name, at last!” in the days when there was usually nothing more than a typewritten name on a database to go by.
I have no doubt that the power of face-to-face connecting hasn’t changed since the Romans used to gather and meet in the forum. Whether you’re a lady who lattés or someone with ambitions to become Grand Master (I know you’re an aspirational bunch), face-to-face business networking is alive and well, and here to stay.