Istanbul Bilgi University - Bilgi Academy Training Center
Bilgi Training Center: Please tell us how your research into, and interest in, Networking blossomed.
Ertugrul Belen: I was a scholarship student at University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh. Only one year was left for graduation. It was critical for me to find the right company for my internship. Either they would most offer me a permanent position, which was highly likely, or I would have to be turn back to Turkey. Oshkosh was snowy seven months a year, therefore acclaimed corporations on the West and East sides of the Sates were hardly willing to visit us during the so-called career days.
One day in February 1999, I and my friends were studying at our computers in the library. Everyone was applying for small firms within the close vicinity of Oshkosh. I also was looking up job postings, and feeling quite desperate. The moment I realized how desperate I was, I could not help wonder: Was I going to apply for an announced position everybody is applying for, or join the company that I wanted to work at?
Everybody laughed at me when I told that I would find and send an application to the representatives of each and every firm listed on Fortune 100, which includes the top corporations in the States and the world. They were personally convinced that not even a slightest chance existed. Moreover, it was of course a no-go for the only foreign student studying in Oshkosh.
While working out ways to contact the best corporations in New York and California, I discovered this thing called Networking. I read everything that I could find about it. Apparently, one needed to build collaborations based on mutual trust for fruitful networking experiences. It made sense but, all in all, I was just a student. How was it supposed to happen? "What do I have to offer to those companies as a student?", I asked myself. Yes, they were not attending the career days of my school, but it was not because it was an underperformer. On the contrary, we were among the best colleges. It was just that Oshkosh was far away, and career days lasted only two days, which scared off these companies. They all would want to leave on the day they arrived.
During my research, I had found out about speed networking sessions (later on, I would introduce those to Turkey and acquire the registered trademark for Speed Networking™ .) As part of these sessions, people unfamiliar with each other would come together and connect with one another through exercising their "Elevator Pitches" during brief yet quite effective encounters.
Then I thought that I could do the same thing to establish a connection between university students and corporations, which could prove beneficial for everyone. The outcome was more than I expected for: The best corporations paid a one-day visit to our school for the first time, and had the chance to meet almost a hundred students in those speed networking sessions.
In the meantime, the treasury department of General Motors in New York City accepted me as an intern, later on to offer a full-time position. Moreover, I helped many of my friends get into best corporations, let alone the fact that corporations acquired precious candidates.
It was when I had been enlightened by the indispensable role of Networking, which was a game-changer for me. I knew that I would build relations based on mutual trust and preserve these connections, regardless of the jobs, corporations and positions I would work for. This is how my interest in Networking blossomed.
Bilgi Training Center: You describe Networking as the art of "Meeting, Referring and Getting Known". Could you please elaborate on this? Why is it so important?
Ertugrul Belen: It is important for me to use Turkish words and concepts befitting the culture in my courses, articles and books. Networking is a phrase in English, and it represents a lot of concepts in one place. Over the past decade, I could summarize Networking in three words, building on my work in Turkey: Meeting, Referring and Getting Known.
Meeting: We (individuals and organizations) choose goals and dreams driven by three criteria: Time, volume, and outcome. I mean, we say: "In two years' time (time), I will produce this volume of products and services (volume), thanks to which I will earn that amount of money or be promoted to that position (outcome)." I would not say this is wrong. But it lacks a certain attitude: relations based on mutual trust. I mean, one should choose similar goals and dreams for relations, as well: "With whom should I meet today? Where are my existing and prospective contacts headed to? How can I help them?" These are the questions one should personally ask and definitely act on.
Referring: As much as it makes life more meaningful to recommend a book you loved to a friend, introducing people with one another also acts as a domino effect. Once you hear about what your contacts do and target -- instead of simply chitchatting --, you just realize something miraculous: What one is need of is something that can be offered by another. And this is where the true power of introducing lies. Introducing two people may only look like an ordinary course of action. However, a proper introduction means two people who are happy with, and sometimes are grateful for, such an attempt, which is the domino effect that multiplies in Networking.
Getting Known: If you target an effective relationship based on mutual trust during your encounters and introductions, you would be the first person to come to mind and call in the event of a development that they think you should know. The end result of effective meeting and introducing is getting known. After a while, you become a significant contact person for people. Recommending and referencing you would make them stronger as well.
Bilgi Training Center: What is Speed Networking?
Ertugrul Belen: After I acquired the rights to Speed Networking™ in Turkey, it has become a quick and fruitful networking practice during the course of which I have professionally worked with more than 50 thousand people. I have delivered courses to the executives of the holdings' companies willing to further know each other; organizations intending to develop stronger ties between their teams; groups of businesspersons who were planning to host their guests; chambers of commerce; NGOs, and many others within the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
I can describe it as business-oriented engineering of meetings and introductions. And you need to re-design your sessions each and every time. We identify who the participants are, how they would be influential, with whom they should meet and what they should talk. Only after this do we gather the groups for an insight into quick and effective encounters.
A prior workshop enables participants to explore the subtleties of how they should manage brief encounters; how they should exchange a lot of business cards but still remember those people; and -- most important of all -- how they they can turn a brief encounter into a powerful relation.
Bilgi Training Center: What do you do to teach the art of networking in the courses you deliver at Bilgi Training Center? What do you tell?
Ertugrul Belen: The Networking seminar at Bilgi will be held on a single day for eight hours. Here are some of the course subjects:
The importance of Networking in the Business World (finding business, establishing business, developing business)
Positioning the Existing Contacts in the Networking Map
International Relations and Networking Strategies
Obstacles to Networking
The Specifics of Networking and Building an Effective Network
The Methods to Meet New People
Guaranteeing an Effective First Impression in Meetings
Small Talk and Elevator Pitch Strategies to Remain in Minds
Tips to Building an Elevator Pitch
Strengthening Contacts Through Meeting and Introducing
Methods to Sustain Relations Through Contacts
Preparations Prior to Networking Events and Conferences
Meeting Anyone Comfortably in an Environment of Unknown Faces
The Art of Using a Creative Business Card
Effective Networking on Social Networks
Speed Networking™ with Participants During the Seminar
We keep in touch with participants after the end of the course. They are given a list of homework to do, which requires a lot of practice and a positive change. I believe that the course will allow participants to see professional success in a different light. They will all realize that they have the power. Additionally, anyone who, for example, would even find it hard to talk to a stranger on a plane, will after the training be able to say at least a hello.
Bilgi Training Center: What about "Elevator Pitch" and "Business Card Poker" practices?
The term elevator in this phrase is an allegory. Imagine you're in an elevator going down to the lobby. A floor down the door opens, and the person whom you've long wanted to meet gets in. In such a scenario, the elevator pitch refers to how your conversation with that person should be like. The way you introduce yourself should be brief, but also encourage your encounter to ask questions to you.
When I say, for example, "Hello, I am author Ertugrul Belen", I label myself in a certain way, which is a no-go! As I don't encourage my counterpart to ask questions. Instead, I could have said: "Hello, I am Ertugrul Belen. I organize business-oriented speed networking courses and pen these experiences. I am an author and a corporate trainer". As a result of this elevator pitch, my encounter would comfortably ask me: "That's interesting. Where do you organize the courses? What do you write? Which companies have you worked for? What is the name of your book? "
What is key in your elevator pitch is to avoid showing off, to make your counterpart feel comfortable and to design in advance a brief encounter in a way to encourage further conversations. You need to redesign your elevator pitch in every new environment and person, and if necessary, change it altogether to fit the situation.
Business Card Poker
While developing this practice, I knew that the goals of people around us actually changed everyday. They may have ambitious goals to pursue, but they will decide again with whom they want to collaborate when they wake up this morning. Some will know whom they want to contact with. Some others will start looking for names that might be interesting for them. At certain intervals, we gather professionals who trust one another in the business world. They chat together to find out with whom they have met since their last encounter in order to decide with whom they can introduce each other. It is a great pleasure for me when I see in some groups of participants who attended this practice that new potential for collaborations arise which could yield millions of Turkish Lira.
Bilgi Training Center: You refer to international practices in your courses. What do you think the common mistakes of Networking in Turkey?
Ertugrul Belen: A couple of years ago, I and Zeynep Mengi conducted a study which we later published on the HR Pages of Hurriyet Daily. It was called "How are the Turks Networking?", which clearly showed that we are unfortunately still quite biased about Networking. We still do not know what separates Networking from preferential treatment. Without considering the story behind it, we are tempted to call anything a preferential treatment once we hear about someone who has achieved something through their relations.
Let me reiterate that Networking is not about collecting business cards like tomatoes. It is not about distributing these cards in ninja movements. It is not about meeting anyone who bumps into us. It is not chitchatting, making use of people or creating a hefty book of all encounters. Networking is building relations based on mutual trust in the light of your personal and business vision. It is reinforcing these relations by delivering mutual benefits.
Bilgi Training Center: How important are social networks? What can one do for networking on social channels?
Ertugrul Belen: 20 years ago, you could get a first impression only after a face-to-face contact. Today, though, we can google people, their companies and personal information about them days before we meet. It means that first impression is now possible to get before seeing somebody. First impression goes digital! To keep it short, the most important channels that create a first impression are social networks. A study shows that 30% of the American firms scan all the social network accounts of an applicant before recruitment.
Of course, I would not be fair if I only associate social networks with first impression. The number of people who found a job, founded a business or developed contacts on LinkedIn has increased more than enough! As long as we don't put face-to-face meetings aside, social networks are great tools that keep our relations fresh.
Start by signing up on LinkedIn, then find some good profiles to see what they have written there, and create a personal profile. Join the groups and actively use them.
You can also be active on other channels like Facebook, Twitter and XING. Don't forget that social media is where people will get a first and maybe a last impression of you. Be smart and sensitive, as if in daily life, when it comes to personal privacy settings and who you accept as followers, in order to prevent people from having biases about you.
Bilgi Training Center: As a final note, could you please explain the benefits of attending a networking course? What kind of skills do participants acquire?
Ertugrul Belen: I liken training courses to air travels. Participants are the passengers, and the trainer is the pilot. As the pilot of the Networking course, let me comfortably say that all of the course outcomes are based on practice. Quite a technical or theoretical course would do nothing but only make participants feel as if they had read a nice book, during which they spent a good time, but saw no change coming.
If we can deliver Networking courses to many BIST 100 listed organizations and maintain our relations for years, I believe that it is because we provide practical information based on tangible inputs.
The key outcome for participants will be the ability to redesign their lives and organizations through their network, in the light of their own Networking visions. This is a power, which helped me years ago to design the circle of relations spanning from the small, freezing village of Oshkosh to the treasury department of General Motors in New York City...
Everything is possible once you learn how to build relations based on mutual trust and how to follow Networking strategies.