Networking Communication: Rules and Tools
While attending a networking event recently, in between conversations, I began to observe and categorize the variety of approaches people used to engage with strangers. It became apparent very quickly that 50% or more of the attendees were struggling with networking etiquette.
As I reveal the networking predator’s traits I created, with a side of humor, pay close attention to the underlying messages. The rules and tools for each situation are guidelines to make networking a valuable experience for all.
You know who I mean. One of the easiest predators to spot. The sole purpose for the evening is to collect business cards. The next day, they request social media connections (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter…) with each person they encountered and add you to their contact data base! That is a serious offence.
A cultural observation I learned after living in SE Asia for many years was that writing a note on the business card that you were politely offered with two hands and a bow, is both offensive and disrespectful. To this day, I do not write on a business card!
Rules and Tools:
- Observe the players before you take the field. Watch and learn who to approach and who to conveniently avoid.
- Practice casual conversation. Beth Bridges, author of Networking on Purpose, tells us to ask a personal question to break the predators’ elevator speech delivery. “What do you do for fun?”
- There is amazing power in small talk.
- Know your cultural etiquette.
- Ask permission to connect with someone on a social media platform IF you feel the relationship will be of value to each of you.
The Elevator Operator
They have their elevator speech down! They believe it is the networking key to building their business. Delivering it to as many victims as possible is the most important item on their agenda. If they let you know what they do, surly you will help them.
I am guessing we have all been in a situation where the person you are speaking to is done with their speech and looking over your shoulder for a more influential person to connect with. De-valuing a person is a sure way to build a bad reputation quickly.
Rules and Tools:
- SILENT and LISTEN are spelled with the same letters but have very different outcomes. Both are valuable, learned behaviors that take practice and have positive relationship consequences.
- Silence allows a question to be answered without interruption.
- Listening means being fully present, attentive and interested in the conversation.
The “Circle of Us”
A small group of people that chat among themselves in a closed “circle of us”, rather than an open “circle of trust.” As an outsider, it can be very intimidating to join in with this group due to the blocked entry way. An introvert would most likely avoid this uninviting group. As an extrovert and someone who enjoys networking, I too find this to be a challenge.
Rules and Tools:
- A smile and a firm handshake is a great way to join in. The smile puts people at ease and a firm shake will boost your confidence.
- If you are speaking to one person, stand shoulder to shoulder vs. facing one another to create an inviting approach for others.
- When initiating a small group conversation of three or more, intentionally position yourself in a Horseshoe vs. a Huddle format. This will allow people to enter and exit the conversation without pressure.
The Alcohol Induced Extrovert
They entered the event as an introvert and used the crutch of alcohol to put them at ease. It is never a good idea to overindulge with alcohol at an event that you have targeted to establish professional relationships. First impressions are lasting impressions and they are hard for people to forget or forgive.
Rules and Tools:
- Limit your alcohol intake to decrease your risk of an embarrassing moment.
The Networking Zen Master
This is who we all want to be and meet at a networking event. The person that can casually work the room while having meaningful conversations with many people throughout the evening.
Rules and Tools of a Zen Master:
- Engages people in empowering small talk.
- Asks open ended questions, then actively listens to the answers.
- Skilled at being approachable: smiling, demonstrating open body language and expressing authenticity and sincerity.
- Respectfully follows up with the relationships they established at the event.
A Graceful Exit
Before you depart the networking event, be sure to thank the organizer. Follow-up with an electronic or hand written thank you note, depending on the generational expectation of your contact. If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll know exactly how to interpret the generational aspect!
I challenge you to select a few of networking tools you and give it a try at your next event. Bringing value to yourself and others will create a positive networking experience for all.