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Regent for Florida-Eastern, William P. Perno, FACHE

Mastering the Art of Networking @ ACHE Chapter Events

During a recent student orientation at a local university in our ACHE Higher Education Network, a participant asked a great question; how do you network successfully? Suddenly, I was stuck. How do I do it? Has it been easy? Natural? Or a chore? Basically, it’s like dating. It takes time, planning, energy, confidence and be willing to be yourself.

Networking events are meant as jumping-off points for relationship building. If you can’t be yourself, you’ll be starting off these new relationships with a lie. Don’t try to be the person you think others want to meet. Be genuine. The people you connect with when you are authentic are the ones you’ll want to stay in touch with during your career. ACHE Chapter Event networking can be as much a science as an art…First, set reasonable expectations. Not every leader in the room has a job ready to give, mentor ready to share, or more than initial hello.

So, when attending an ACHE chapter event, understand what you are there to do. Is your goal to feel out a new organization you recently joined and get to know the culture or mission of the local organization? Is it to meet five new people? Is it to meet one or two specific people? These are all reasonable expectations and it takes a little pre-planning to set these goals. Most important, do not try to meet everyone and be instant LinkedIn friends over night.

So, secondly do not spread yourself too thin during the event. Start by spreading a large net to test out a handful of organizations represented and then commit yourself to only a few real good conversations. You want to become a staple at these events. When you bounce around to too many conversations where no one knows you more professionally, you’re doing yourself a disservice by having to build your brand from scratch in each “hello”. You’ll also find that networking is a lot more fun when you become a regular, so attend as many of these local chapter events as possible.

Consider taking notes as a third way of benefiting the networking process. When you ask for someone’s card after having a great conversation, take notes on their business card after they walk away or immediately after the event is critical. This will help you to be more specific in your follow-up. During these great conversations, remember to formulate a few questions that are unique and thoughtful. The only way to get to know someone else is to ask them genuine and thoughtful questions. It’s always best to walk away from a conversation having allowed the other person to speak more than you did. Listening will always be your best interpersonal skill as a successful healthcare leader. Not only will they feel great about the conversation, but you’ll have gotten to know a lot about him/her, helping you plan and execute your follow-up more thoughtfully.

Finally, do not “work the room.” Do not try to meet as many people as possible at the event; focus on making just a few solid connections. People can sense when you’re simply speaking with them to grab their card and go. These short interactions will not be memorable and therefore work against you. Aim to meet a few people and begin a meaningful dialogue.

Hopefully, these few tips to the art and science of networking will be a benefit in your career and making the most of ACHE chapter events in the future. One last piece of advice and should go without saying, be engaged – keep eye contact with your conversation partner. Nod your head and tilt your body towards them when you’re speaking. It’s ok to recap a point or ask an additional question. These small cues will go a long way towards making them feel like you care, which helps you to build rapport and trust. Remember, leadership is about relationships; no one will follow you, until they know you care.

Best of luck at your next ACHE Chapter Event!

William P. Perno, FACHE
ACHE Regent for Florida – Eastern

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