Editorial: 12 networking tips for CFOs

In theory it sounds easy: going to conferences, seminars and especially the CFO South Africa events provide finance professionals with a golden opportunity for a bit of personal benchmarking, learning from peers, creating business opportunities, angling for bigger and better jobs and covertly assessing the strategies of competitors. But for a lot of finance professionals – who haven’t necessarily chosen their profession because of their bubbly personality – networking can be scarier than IFRS, more tedious than crunching numbers and just downright hard to do.

Networking is a skill you should work on though. Important new relationships are established at each and every CFO South Africa event, so for those of us who are quite useless at 'working the floor' while others seem to flit from group to group like butterflies in a field of flowers, here are some 'tips for dummies'.

  1. Have no fear. When we walk into a room that's abuzz with conversations about corporate life or about how well the kids are doing, we tend to feel that everyone knows everyone else - except us. Not true! There will be many people just like you in the room, as you'll discover once your start talking to them.
  2. Engage. We tell ourselves that it is rude to interrupt conversations or randomly join a group that looks interesting (or is near the bar). Also false! The whole reason people are here in the first place is to meet others - including us - and to find common ground, share challenges and discuss solutions.
  3. Join in. Why not find the most 'chilled' looking group and introduce yourself when the opportunity arises? A lot of these groups often include a particularly sociable individual who will introduce him- or herself and the rest of the group to you - bonus!
  4. Relate. Another option is to casually greet fellow party evaders. As we know all too well, you find them behind pillars, clutching a drink at the bar or (pretending to be) on the phone in a corner. The latter are tough nuts to crack - don't be one of them as they might as well not be in the room for all the good it will do them or their business.
  5. Have presence. London-based consultant Julia Streets suggests sticking to the three Ps: be present, have presence and be presentable. No need to wear a designer suit or dress, but looking sharp at any corporate engagement has never hurt.
  6. Make eye contact. Firm eye contact (without making others uncomfortable) is important, but not the easiest thing for networking noobs like us. Do try though. And remember to smile.
  7. Prepare. As you (are supposed to) know from your regular work, preparation can make all the difference. So why not think about a few things you would like to share or inquire about before you come to a CFO South Africa event or specific people you'd like to meet?
  8. Be open. A targeted approach is an excellent idea; we are all looking for relevant contacts and insights, but don't evaporate the second you realize your hard won conversation partner appears to be of 'no use' to you. People prefer to do business with people they like, so you don't want to be known as the rude dude. You never know how a business relationship will develop in the future.
  9. Snack lightly. Resist the temptation to stuff yourself with the invariable great canapés on offer when the mingling is slow and awkward. You cannot offer an elegant reply with hamster cheeks when out of nowhere the-person-you-always-wanted-to-meet starts chatting to you.
  10. Consolidate connections. Bring more business cards than you think you need. Give them out and collect business cards from the people you meet. Follow up on important new contacts with a call, or by connecting on LinkedIn.
  11. Join us. Attend CFO South Africa events. We put a lot of thought into our themes and into getting the right people into the room. Or even better: join us as a platinum member and receive exclusive benefits.
  12. Repeat. Building networks takes time. Attend events regularly to build up the trust and relationships that underpin many great new partnerships. Who knows, you might even start to enjoy yourself…

If you would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, you want to be part of the leading CFO South Africa Community or you want to know more about hosting a CFO South Africa event, you are most welcome to get in touch with CFO SA. Please contact Jurriën Morsch at [email protected]

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