by Kathy Condon
Each time I begin my networking seminars I ask the participants two questions:
- What is your name?
- Why did you decide to come to this seminar?
What is your name?
That’s pretty simple. Most people know their name. Though occasionally I will have a participant who has recently been married and stumbles when she is standing up before a group. Note that I said standing. Always stand when you are introducing yourself. Even at a U-shaped table the people sitting at the other end of your table cannot see you. The goal is to be remembered. In addition, your voice is much clearer.
Keep in mind, our names are very important to all of us. If they are not wearing nametags big enough to read, make a chart and write the first names of the people who are standing. You will be amazed at how quickly you can build rapport with a person when you start using his or her name.
Why did you decide to come to this seminar?
It is easy to predict what they will say:
- “My job requires me to out in the public and meet people, and I’m very uncomfortable doing it.”
- “I am an introvert, and I don’t know what to say or do.”
- “I go to events and I find them so boring and become so self-conscious.”
- “I’m great at talking with people at my church, yet there is something about having to go do networking that strikes real fear for me.”
This is perfect! Once again, they have set me up for my “little speech” on what networking is.
First, you must understand that you are networking every place you go. Networking is about building relationships. It’s about learning things about other people. You know everything you know. You are doing yourself a disservice if you do all the talking. People have had amazing experiences in their lives, and it is great to hear about the wisdom they have gained and the challenges that they have overcome.
What you want to do is ask questions and learn about the other person. You will be amazed at how quickly you will find a common ground between you. The key is when you ask a question, you have to listen to the answer. Then you can build on the answer to ask another question.
- Did you have the opportunity to go a vacation last summer? No, I didn’t.
- Are you planning one for the future? No, saving for college for my children.
- How many children do you have?
Notice if the question I asked produced “yes or no” answer, I had a way to keep asking questions. Naturally, it is better to ask open-ended questions. Still, we sometimes forget; luckily you can still extend the conversation. If you truly are focusing on the person and the conversation you are having, you will come up with the next question you can ask.
For some reason we have compartmentalized what we do for work as different from what we do in our daily lives. Yet, you are networking at your gas station and your dry cleaners. The other day the woman at the dry cleaner and I started a great conversation over a skirt I brought in for cleaning. Before we knew it, we were talking about the college courses she was taking, and she was really smiling. Not only did she end up giving me a special discount, but I said “good-by” with a huge smile and “I’ll see you next Saturday.” I smiled about the great customer service as I walked out the door.
What we really are talking about when we say networking is connecting with people. I never talk about my business on a first meeting with someone, unless he or she asks. It is my view that I want to get know more about the person with whom I am speaking at the time. Business can come later, when we sit down over a cup of coffee.
I’ll give the woman at the cleaner my card next Saturday because I want to make it easy for her to get in touch with me if she wants to. I have long ago given up the thought that my cards are “my advertisement.” My cards serve as way to make it easy for people to get in touch with me.
Well, I am off to meet with a new client that I met four years ago at a social event. Shortly after we met, we went out for cup of coffee, and he learned what I did. Today, he is without a job. Last week, he called, and even though I haven’t seen him in three years, he remembered our conversation, and I will be guiding him to his new career.
Final Thoughts on Networking
If you want to be good at networking, be interested in people. Then watch your circle of friends and acquaintances grow. I’m betting if you take this approach, the listings in your contact program will grow substantially. More than likely, these people will be there for you when you need help, because you built a relationship with them.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Kathy Condon is a Vancouver, WA-based career facilitator. She is a columnist writing on “Career Communications,” and an international speaker and trainer. She is an expert on “Identifying Your Innate Talents” and Business Networking. Contact Condon at 360-695-4313, firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Website.