Connecting* is usually the hardest part so if you’ve done that then you’re over the biggest hurdle. The next thing to do is to keep the conversation going. The main focus at this stage is to build a rapport with the other person. These are your first, real-time impressions, and yes, first impressions do mean everything. Use this time to be honest (with both yourself and the other person) as to why you are interested in forming a networking relationship and what you aim to get out of it.
A ‘conversation’ (noun) is a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged. The concepts behind having a conversation online don't stray far from conversations in person. We have a few tips on how to keep a conversation alive and not waste all the effort you went through to make the connection in the first place.
Find the common ground. This is a great entryway to a conversation as it's much easier to conversate with somebody that you have at least one thing in common with. If you join via the network’s matching service (mentioned in the previous post, CONNECT) you can be assured you have a common ground; you are both black women scientists with interests in networking. Whilst your reasons may be different, you both know that you signed up wanting to connect with others in the industry. We don’t suggest you start strong with something like “isn’t it hard being a black woman?” in your introductions, asking something like “how did you get involved with/find BWiS?” might be received a bit better. That brings us to our next point...
Open-ended questions. Out of all the questions, open-ended ones are the best for networking. Closed questions do just that: close the flow of conversation. Questions that force the other person to think of a reply are really handy because it opens the room for conversations and then gives you jump-off points to continue the relationship. Here are some open-ended questions that we think are appropriate to initiate professional conversations.
Be honest. Ever been in a conversation and realised that the current answer contradicts their previous story? Yeah, it’s the worst and rightly has you questioning the integrity of the conversation. When meeting new people it can be tempting to overplay your accomplishments or feel the pressure to present the best version of yourself. But don’t do it. Before you enter a dialogue have an internal conversation to decide how much you are comfortable sharing about your journey so far, where you are at now and what your future aspirations are. By deciding how transparent you are ready to be beforehand you will feel less compelled to exaggerate the truth. In short, be sure to maintain an air of honesty. It’s been proven to be the best policy.
Take a hint. With people that you don’t know very well it can be difficult to navigate what is 'normal' for them. If you find yourself in the situation where you have exhausted all of the questions we’ve provided and can’t think of anyone else to conversate; use the cues provided in the conversation i.e. if someone has mentioned that they’re thinking about applying for a PhD, maybe ask how their applications are going and see if you can proof-read any research proposals or applications. Maybe also ask what they’re applying for and see if you can find any opportunities they may not have come across.
Don’t be scared of the silence. We’re not all glued to our phones. If the first half of 2020 has taught us anything, it is that you never know what people going through. If you feel like some time has passed and the individual hasn’t responded in their characteristic response time, feel free to message and check again. There really isn’t a written rule but don’t let your pride stop you from making a new connection.
Be understanding. This follows on from our last point but it is important to mention that as you extend your network online you are most definitely going to meet people outside of your social circle, probably people that you are unlikely to have met in real life. Whatever the case may be, have the decency to listen with an open mind and accept people for who they are. Whilst doing so, be kind, considerate and respectful.
Even the greatest conversationalists can come up a bit dry so do make use our suggested questions to keep the conversation alive.
Feel free to comment below some questions that you think everyone should ask and questions you’d love to be asked.
Next up we have a post on starting to see your network as an investment into yourself; we’ll let you know how to make a return as well.
INVEST (Part 3) coming next week!
*For more on connecting, revisit the first part of our How To Network Online series. If you want to find a new connection with a black woman in science, fill out this form to register your interest.
By Tomi Akingbade, Founder