Martina Bjorkenor is the Managing Director of The Hospitality Network
Can you share a little about what makes you an authority on building a great network?
For me "networking" is our business and has become an integral part of life. What is most important though is not the size of your professional network but how engaged you are in your network. As one of the co-founders of "The Hospitality Network" nine years ago, we have made it our mission to connect the hotel industry - now throughout the EMEA region. The insights, support and enthusiasm we have come across motivates and inspires us.
How important is networking for professional success, and why?
Networking is absolutely essential for professional success. It's like the old saying, "no man is an island." It truly does - to fling another quote about - "take a village." It is truly through a supportive network that we can build a foundation for good mentorship and growth.
What's your usual ice-breaker question when meeting someone for the first time?
I like repeat the other person's name back to him or her after we have greeted each other. As in "So nice to meet you, Sarah" for example. Shows the other person that you value meeting them and it helps you remember their name.
How do you approach networking differently when you're meeting someone in person versus virtually?
The difference is enormous. When I met someone in person I am better able to read their body language and pick up on that person's level of formality so that I can engage accordingly. I also find it easier to make that connection in person but virtual meetings can be a blessing when they are the only option.
What are some common mistakes people make when trying to build their professional network, and how can they avoid them?
One common mistake people make when trying to build their professional network is to try to grow their network indiscriminately. To build a truly relevant network it is always better to start with people in the same industry, ex-colleagues and friends for example, and then grow it from there. Focusing on the industry you are in, or perhaps the industry you want to get into. Be as focused as you can or it can feel overwhelming.
Have you noticed any differences in the types of relationships you build through in-person versus virtual networking? If so, can you describe those differences?
I have definitely noticed differences in the types of relationships I have built in person versus virtually. The relationships that I build through in-person networking are often less formal and much more personal.
What are some strategies you've found effective for building rapport and establishing trust with someone you've only just met?
That is a great question. I am not sure that you can build rapport and establish trust instantly but my policy is to be sincere and let my personality shine through. Sincerity is the shortest route to building rapport.
How can someone use social media and online networking to expand their professional network?
There are many online tools now through which we can become part of professional networks, stay up to date on industry news and also to engage and share our own content. I would say that it is important to "follow" industry - and thought - leaders who share interesting content. It is also important to comment on such posts to engage with likeminded people and finally also to contribute by posting your own ideas and insights.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to networking and trying to make connections in their industry?
My advice would be to really push yourself out of your comfort zone and "get out there." Go to networking events, meet new people, sign up for various classes and workshops that are relevant for your industry. Those are great steps to make new connections and building your network.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get yourself out there to meet new people.
Be yourself. Sincerity really does shine through.
Try to have fun. Do not make "networking" a chore but rather enjoy the opportunity to meet new, interesting people.