Don’t Be Vague

“I want to go back to school … maybe do something in the business world.”

Networking isn’t like the movies. Nobody is going to listen to some important-sounding core values and sea stories you tell, then immediately offer you an awesome job. Good contacts will want to know what you can offer, specifically. Specific skills, experiences and characteristics. What’s bad: “I want to go back to school. Something in business.” This is vague and could mean anything. What’s better: “I strongly believe in good products, which means good quality control. I did that in the military, and I’d like to do that in the civilian world. I’d also like to go to school to learn quality systems.”

The reason why that second phrase is better is that it initiates conversation. Whoever hears it can ask you about your work in the military, your thoughts on certain jobs in the civilian world and what schools you want to attend. Also, it invites the listener’s opinions on what you’ve talked about. It starts a conversation. And it doesn’t have to be your life’s dream, just pick something that interests you, research it enough to be specific and bring it to the networking event. Maybe you’ll find out it is your dream; maybe you’ll learn about something that becomes your dream later on.

Networking & Education

Networking is one of the most significant skills that you could learn in order to make your business a success story. The majority of business owners believe that they can just start a business, and the clients will come. Any successful business owner will immediately tell you this is not the case.

Building a successful business takes a lot of time and dedication, so it is sensible to have a network of business partners and associates to draw energy from and keep you motivated. By surrounding yourself with people who share a similar passion and determination, you are more likely to move forward and achieve results. Business networking is a really valuable way to expand your knowledge, learn from the success of others, get new clients and tell others about your business.

Industries are constantly changing. Continuing education is required for workers, and owners to stay current with the latest developments, skills, and new technologies that affect their businesses and their clients. Overall, your image will increase, as will your marketability, if you pursue continuing education.

The Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce provides networking and education opportunities:

  • Wake Up Wednesday Morning Networking.
  • Young Professional’s Evening Networking.
  • Willamette Valley Greeters Networking.
  • Monthly Speaker Series Luncheon.
  • Mid-Willamette Valley Leaderships Summit.
  • Chamber 101.
  • Chamber Chatter e-newsletter.

Don’t Only Think About Yourself

Everyone at a networking event needs something. Networking can be described as the process of interacting or engaging in communication with others for mutual assistance or support. Networking is a “give and take” thing and going the extra mile to help others will help inspire other people to go the extra mile for you.

You’re talented! Eager! Ambitious! You have lots of ideas to share! And you want to make sure that every person you meet at the event knows who you are and what you do!

We get it. And yes, sharing your story with new contacts is important. But sharing your life story is overkill. Nothing can set a person off more than an aspiring professional who takes no interest in anything beside her own ambitions.

Stop highlighting your latest accomplishment and start listening instead. Find people with industries or careers of interest to you, and ask them questions: How did they get their start? What do they love about their jobs, and what do they wish they could change? By taking an interest in your contact, you will make her feel valued—and hopefully interested in continuing the relationship. And you’ll likely gain some new insights, too.

If you’re looking for a job, don’t ask for it—work for it. Do some research into what your contact does both in and out of work and find ways that you can contribute your time or support. Perhaps you could volunteer your expertise in social media for the big convention she’s heading up, or offer your accounting knowledge for her non-profit. Maybe you are not the solution, but you know someone who is. Provide some opportunity for contacts to see you in a working light, and you’ll be that much closer to a good referral.

Mastering Body Language

Body language can speak volumes about a person. Learning to master your body language and effectively reading another’s body language is the key to all social interactions. Last time, we mentioned mirroring body language and avoiding negative body language. Here we will discuss in detail what that means.

When talking with someone, look for actions of engagement, such as head nods, forward leans, and eye contact. These are the actions that you want to casually mirror. This will create a more relaxed atmosphere. Smile, but do so genuinely. Fake smiles can be spotted a mile away.

Be conscientious of cues you are being given from the other person and be less focused on the next thing you have to say! Look for disagreement cues such as leaning back, frowning, or looking away. This is a sign that it might be time to spin the wheel of topics. Try redirecting the conversation. If these cues are still present, it might be time to move on.

When engaged in social interactions, distance is key. Standing too close to someone can be an immediate turn-off, resulting in that person stepping back. You may also see tension cues such as face touching or leaning away. Touching someone is never advised during first interactions. Touch, like distance, is very intimate and shows a level of trust that is rarely achieved during a first conversation.

Many people do not know what to do with their hands. The hands can give off unintentional negative cues. To avoid this, keep your hands unclasped and relaxed. Never place them on your hips or cross your arms. These are defensive cues that are not effective in networking.

Body language makes up 55 percent of what we communicate to others. It is essential to business and networking that we are aware of what we are telling others at any given moment.

Please… Tell Me More

Networking is the backbone to nearly everything in life. It is how we meet new people in all areas of our personal and professional lives. Yesterday we discussed the first step in face-to-face networking – approaching someone. You have exchanged introductions and have engaged in small talk. Now what?

Many conversations die after the small talk. It is the job of the initiator to keep it going. This can be done very easily and fluidly by asking casual questions. These can include asking about their job, education, workplace, or where they live or grew up. What are their hobbies, favorite books, or music preferences? All of these topics can help keep the conversation flowing and create opportunities to find what you have in common with this person. Just remember to only ask those questions that you are willing to answer yourself.

Conversations seem to flow in a basic evolution. This evolution can be seen in nearly every conversation and not just those between two people who have met. Small talk leads into humorous banter, which eventually leads to a deeper discussion of thoughts and ideas. It is often here where you begin to learn more about the person. This knowledge can help uncover if they are a passive candidate who might be a great fit for your organizations.

There are some very basic rules to make your networking conversations successful.

  1. Talk about yourself sparingly. Add your thoughts, but do not hijack the conversation and make it about yourself.
  2. Employ the “Tell Me More” method of engagement. Aske the person to expand on their thoughts.
  3. Speaking slowly shows confidence and reduces the need for space-fillers.
  4. Be judgment-free and show empathy.
  5. Compliment the person’s success, style, or work ethic, but NEVER their beauty.
  6. Avoid the topics that provoke one’s emotions, especially politics and religion.
  7. Mirror their body language and avoid negative body language.
  8. Abide the golden rule – give your conversational partner your full attention. Always practice active listening.

A key concept most are not aware of is that the more questions you ask, and the more others talk about themselves, the more they think you are interesting. You read that right. The more engaged your conversational partner is, the more interesting you become.

Keeping the conversation going beyond the introductions and small talk is the next step in mastering the art of networking. Follow these rules and you will be able to talk to anyone in any setting.

Networking to Get Ahead

Networking is a great way to foster relationships with leaders in your industry. It can also help uncover passive candidates. Striking up a conversation at an industry event, conference, or local networking group can open a world of potential for your organization.

The first step to networking is to approach a new person or a group of people. This can be the scariest step in the whole process. Even the most confident person can become intimidated when encountering the unknown.

Take a deep breath and walk up to the person you would like to engage in conversation. If the person is not already engaged, politely introduce yourself and shake their hand. Remembering that person’s name is key. The easiest way to do so is to repeat their name, “Joe, it is very nice to meet you.”

The best conversation starter after exchanging introductions is to ask a question. “What brought you here?”, “Have you been here before?”, “How do you know the host?”, or “What would you recommend at the bar?” Utilize the setting to frame your first questions. This will break the ice and help both you and the person you are speaking with feeling more comfortable.

Make certain that you give the person your complete attention. Stimulate the conversation by adding input, without “one-upping” the person. Redirect the conversation to yourself by offering a compliment or your thoughts. Then redirect back to the other person by asking a question.

Pauses in the conversation are natural. Do not try to fill them with sounds such as “un” or “ah”. Even though the word “like” is used in many ways, it should never be used as space-filler within your statements. Avoid using these fillers by taking a deep breath while you collect your thoughts.

The key to approaching anyone is showing confidence with a handshake and remembering their name. After you have broken the ice, you can begin asking questions, but always be aware of how you are received. The one you are speaking with should never feel like he is being interrogated. The goal is to create a quick bond that will make both you and your conversational partner feel comfortable.

Don’t Be Uninformed

“What?! Donald Trump is President?”

That is not something you should say at a networking event. Before the event, catch up on what is happening in the world, nationally, locally, and in your industry. You should read up on global events and understand how they may affect your industry.

“Consider it your homework for building a more engaging personality and as a critical element in establishing your relevancy,” writes Heather Dugan on Salary.com.

Preparing for events, conferences, and meetings doesn’t just mean coming with a stack of freshly printed business cards. If you know certain people who are attending or speaking at an event who you know you’ll be interested in meeting, then you should do research on them ahead of time. When you do your homework, you can skip the small talk and get right into the meaningful conversation you are looking for in the first place.

“Time is the most valuable resource people can offer you, so respect it,” says Burke. “Do your homework on the person’s title, their background, their email address, their preferred mode of contact, and their career history. That way, your conversation via email, phone, or in-person can focus on the advice you need to help with, the subject matter you’d like to learn more about, or the organization you want to learn more about.”

In addition to coming prepared with questions for other people, prepare to answer the questions they’ll ask you. Practice your own pitch, as well as answering questions about your career goals.

Don’t Expect a Job

Getting a job might be more about who you know than what you know – but don’t be so obvious about it. People are not going to be inclined to help you if they feel like you are just talking to them because you expect them to help you find a job, Diane Kulseth writes in an article for The Daily Muse.

At one point you were told that fellow networkers are going to help you land your next job, which can be true. But if you expect them to have a pocketful of valuable connections with whom you can speak, or opportunities at the ready; you’re in for a disappointed time. Networking is a process that is invaluable, but it takes more time than one visit.

What works is communicating with people who have the same goal in mind, landing a job. Isn’t that what one does when they network, you wonder? Not necessarily. Some people don’t get the concept. Communicating should consist of an exchange of words from which both parties can benefit.

“If you’re looking for a job, don’t ask for it – work for it,” Diane writes. How? By finding out how you can use your expertise to help them first. You’ve heard, “Help others before asking for help.” I personally think this is a good one to adopt. Don’t go to a networking event only expecting help. Have conversations with people who can be of mutual assistance.

Don’t Dismiss People Who Don’t Look Important

“Networking” isn’t just drinking a glass of chardonnay at a party while chitchatting about your career. It isn’t handing your business card to someone and walking away. It isn’t “connecting” with someone on LinkedIn without any sort of introduction or follow-up.

To be an effective networker, you have to put in the time and effort, do your homework, step out of your comfort zone, and avoid the common mistakes many people make. Last week we discussed not dressing down for networking events. This week let us discuss who you are networking with.

“You should behave here like everyone you interact with has the potential… to get you a cover story in The New York Times – because many of them do,” Tim Ferris, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek”, once told Business Insider in an interview. This came in handy at an event in 2007 when he was standing in line for a movie screening and asked a muscly man in front of him how he got such big forearms. They started chatting and Ferriss realized he was speaking with filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s brother, who connected him with Morgan, who later used Ferriss as his subject for an episode of “A Day in the Life.”

Don’t dismiss people who do not look important enough to you. Sometimes it is the secretary that will get the job done, not the president.

Don’t Dress Down

Networking outside the office is your best chance to meet new people beyond your corporate circle who can help promote your career. It’s also a no-man’s land when it comes to the dress code.

Networking is not an interview, and once outside the office, the strict rules of the dress code no longer apply. You’re left on your own to overdress and look like you don’t belong or under dress and look like you’ll never belong.

If you’re not sure what everyone will be wearing, ask around to ensure that you won’t be the only one sans suit. When in doubt, business casual is your best bet. But the clothes call could run the gamut from a suit to jeans. Networking outside the office, with more focus on culture and entertainment, is also the perfect opportunity to be more fashion forward and express yourself. This is not a free pass to don your sequined ‘80s jumpsuit, but wear your favorite colors; accessorize; and, most of all, smile.

Remember, dress for success every day, no matter what’s on the agenda – you never who you will run into on your lunch break. Our appearance contributes to how people perceive us. Take control of your appearance. Make sure people perceive you the way you want to be perceived.