Networking: Wing it and You'll flap in the breeze

It is the inevitable topic of conversation at a networking event: Tell me about your job.

When I explain my life's work -- teaching leaders to achieve their dreams through powerful public speaking -- my conversation partner often shrugs and says, "Oh, I could never deliver a speech. I get too nervous."

My response: "What do you think you are doing right now?"

Make no mistake, when you network, you are delivering a series of minipresentations. If you don't know how to put your best foot forward in these business-critical situations, you can forget about building your business or advancing your career.

Master networkers realize that attitude and preparation are vital ingredients for success. How do these pros set themselves up as winners in the networking arena? Let's examine a dynamic dozen techniques:

1. Target carefully the events to attend. Networking is a strategic endeavor. Attend gatherings that make sense for your business or career aims.

2. Craft a 15-second elevator speech. Tell people how you have helped others and, by extension, how you can help them.

3. Arrive on time and stay late. Take advantage of any pre-event time dedicated strictly to networking; this is where business gets done.

4. Don't stand in a clump of people you work with. You want new customers or a new job, right? Spend time with new acquaintances who may hold the key to your dreams.

5. Use a firm handshake and solid eye contact. First impressions are critical. Get maximum benefit from your nonverbal tools.

6. Be prepared for basic questions. Think of the times you have encountered people who stammer when confronted with softballs like, "What's new?" or "What do you do?" Have a meaningful answer on the tip of your tongue.

7. Carry a thick stack of business cards. How frustrating is it to make a solid connection, then not be able to follow up because the person's business cards were left back at the office?

8. Get others talking about themselves. I like to remind myself that I have two eyes, two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion.

9. Limit your conversations to five minutes. If you make a positive connection, agree to meet over lunch or coffee at a later date.

10. Steer clear of the buffet table. Food between your teeth, garlic breath and no free hand to shake. Need I say more?

11. Position yourself at a traffic choke point. This raises the odds that people will have to make eye contact and -- gasp -- actually start a conversation with a stranger.

12. Follow up quickly. A brief e-mail, call, or my favorite, the handwritten note, works wonders to solidify your new contacts.

A note of caution that will contribute to your healthy attitude: Networking does not mean selling; it means relationship building. You are in for a letdown if you assume immediate results. Deals are rarely sealed at networking events, though many are born there.

One more piece of advice: Don't be a spin-your-wheels networker, frantically racing to gather as many business cards as possible. The master networker realizes quality trumps quantity. One or two solid connections are far more valuable than a dozen meaningless quickies.

Successful business leaders understand that networking revolves around a healthy attitude and plenty of preparation. That sounds like a perfect prescription to develop your next client or career move.  

Ed Barks is President of Barks Communications and author of "The Truth About Public Speaking: The Three Keys to Great Presentations." Phone: 540/955-0600 Web site:


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