The value of professional connections

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professional connections
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Having professional connections makes good business sense but maximising networking opportunities when they present themselves isn’t always easy. By Tracey Porter

There are some dental professionals for whom the chance to network is the most alluring aspect of attending any major industry event. Then there are others for whom pulling teeth is a far more appealing proposition.

Michelle Pritchard, a dental practice growth consultant at Aligned Business Consulting, says in today’s post-COVID healthcare environment, dental experts must not only be at the top of their game in terms of their clinical skills but also adept at growing their business operations. Networking is pivotal to this as dentistry is a field boasting a relatively small and interconnected community.

“Networking allows dentists to establish their reputation, showcasing their unique offerings and staying abreast of industry advancements. This is especially crucial in an era where patient preferences are rapidly evolving, influenced significantly by technology and social media.”

Scary stuff

Pritchard concedes that while most healthcare professionals recognise that engaging in conversations about shared niches or interests helps build confidence and establish connections, there are often factors at play that can prevent them truly connecting at industry events.

In such instances the psychological hurdles of networking, such as an inability to believe that your success is deserved or has been achieved legitimately, can be formidable, she says.

Registered psychologist Rachel Tomlinson, at Toward Wellbeing, says networking can be a terrifying word for introverts or those who experience anxiety or shyness.

She says one of the key challenges is the fear of speaking to a stranger, typically because this fear is usually centred around rejection or the person making a fool of themselves in some way.

“For introverts, it’s not so much about the fear, but about the ‘cost’ of energy both emotional and physical associated with social interactions, and not necessarily enjoying them, or finding value in them as opposed to individual pursuits or use of time.  

Networking allows dentists to establish their reputation, showcasing their unique offerings and staying abreast of industry advancements. This is especially crucial in an era where patient preferences are rapidly evolving, influenced significantly by technology and social media.

Michelle Pritchard, Aligned Business Consulting

“Networking can be tricky for some people from the self-introductory element (greeting or conversing with people they have never met), but some are more challenged by the self-promotion aspect—talking about themselves and their own accomplishments.” 

Tomlinson says this can be even more challenging for those in health-related professions where workers are taught to be client-focused “so they get used to their interactions being about others, rather than themselves”.

Honing your networking skills

For those serious about building their professional reputation, or who are eager to broaden their interaction skills, industry events such as the Sydney International Dental Conference + ADX Sydney provide plenty of opportunities.

With the 2024 instalment offering a full-day conference, an Australian Dental Industry Awards night, a Women in Dentistry breakfast, and a specific networking night called Networking Under the Stars, there are ample opportunities for new doors to be opened. 

Pritchard says finding common ground within the dental community makes it easier to engage in conversations about shared niches or interests. It also helps build confidence and establish connections. 

“Personally, joining supportive networking groups and participating in confidence-building courses have been instrumental for me in overcoming these barriers.”

The way forward

Pritchard says the best way to approach events like SIDCON ADX is to prepare beforehand. “Utilising social media to arrange meet-ups and forming industry alliances can enrich the networking experience. Attending specialised events, like Women in Dentistry meetings, and pre-arranging meet-ups through LinkedIn connections can also be effective strategies.

“To conquer networking fears, it’s essential to recognise and be confident in your professional values. Engaging in self-improvement, like listening to podcasts and joining online networking groups, can bolster self-esteem. In the dental field, participating actively in forums and social media, offering insights, and engaging with peers’ posts can establish authority and comfort in networking.”

To conquer networking fears, it’s essential to recognise and be confident in your professional values. Engaging in self-improvement, like listening to podcasts and joining online networking groups, can bolster self-esteem.

Michelle Pritchard, Aligned Business Consulting

Tomlinson, whose wide range of clinical and operational experience includes recruitment, business development, training, operation, and clinical governance, suggests doing your homework on the event ahead of time is a helpful way to calm your nerves. “Consider who else is going and what the topics of conversation are likely to cover before creating a communication plan.” 

She says it is worthwhile considering who you will approach and what you will say once there. It is also worthwhile researching any work they have done recently or looking into a particular field or area you may want to learn more about. 

“Feeling prepared and practising in advance will help you feel less nervous. Set yourself a challenge to help you feel like you have a goal in mind or something to keep you busy, so it might be starting small and just saying hello to five new people, handing your business card to three people or approaching one person with a specific question in mind.” 

In the same boat

The most important thing to remember when developing your skills in this area is that you are not alone, Tomlinson says.

Try talking to people who are standing by themselves as chances are they will be grateful to you for reaching out. 

“Listen and ask interesting questions to show you are engaged. This is a good tip to not only build a good quality network, but if you are shy or have trouble self-promoting, it can also feel more comfortable to use this approach.” 

True networking is generally about the long game and building a solid reputation for yourself. Generally, this means a bit of give and take so that your interactions are not one-sided, she says.

“The best networkers are good at listening (as well as talking), are sincere and authentic, offer up reciprocity and aren’t just out to get their own needs met.” 

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