Do you remember the Invisible Woman, the character from the classic series Fast Show? Whenever she piped up in a meeting she seemed to be unheard, but her ideas were appropriated by her (usually male) colleagues. I loved this, but it made me squirm because it felt like every meeting I’d ever been in. If you’re slightly introverted, or just scrupulously polite, where does this behaviour leave you in the modern workplace, and, most especially, in the dreaded networking event?
I was brooding on this question as I walked into the Charity Meet Up “innovation” event in February – one of Dawn Newton’s regular structured networking events for charity professionals. Dawn has developed her own style of networking meet-ups after noticing that there were plenty of events but none which helped participants to network in a purposeful way through facilitated activities.
They key word here is ‘facilitated’. Although Dawn herself is a self-confessed extrovert she’s sayvy enough to knows not everyone else is so blessed.
She knows that most of us need a little help in this department. Her events have quirkily fun format – expert talks, chatting and ice breakers. (No, not the cringe-worthy ‘hey, tell us something we don’t know about you’ – when you go first and discover that unusual sexual predilections are not considered ‘appropriate’, who knew?) Instead she employs the kind of games you played as kid. We were assigned to a group from the phonetic alphabet – mine was Brazil – Dawn prised my fingers off the bar go and off I went to a table to meet a gaggle of other Brazilians, there we found one of those paper fortune teller games primed with a selection of ‘getting to know you’ questions.
This is quietly brilliant – it takes the onus off you to come up with unpredictable questions, and, more importantly, gives you an excuse to avoid those conversations which consist of an elevator pitch. In other words it lets you meet a person as a person, rather than a potential clients or supplier.
The event I attended had the theme of ‘Innovation’ and two expert speakers. Firstly Jamie Parkins from JustGiving, who gave us top tips on transforming your office culture to one that encourages innovation (I might give the ‘bean bag meetings’ a miss, Jamie, but all the others were fascinating) followed by Lucy Gower and her insights on innovation and how to get your colleagues to say ‘yes’ to it.
Then it was back to drinks and mingling, but armed with some new ideas to discuss.
If you’re not Tony Robbins and you don’t relish the idea of Tiggerishly bounding into a room full of strangers – this is the networking event for you.
Writer and editor – health, rights and social change