Schmoozing Made Palatable and Practical:
Help for People Who Don’t Do Well with Networking
by Jeff Beals
As a marketer, you can strategize about using the media, you can build a powerful Web site, and you can craft brilliant presentations, but ultimately nothing is more effective than informal networking—showing up and schmoozing at political functions, service clubs, fraternal organizations, philanthropic events, professional association meetings, and conventions.
Networking is hard work, especially if you are an introvert. But keeping goals in mind makes it easier and more effective. When you go to a business, political, or social function, you should go thinking you will meet many people and that some of them will turn into customers or friends.
Seeking Common Ground
One of the first things you must accept about informal networking is that it requires a lot of small talk, which some people hate and some find terrifying. If you are not naturally good at chitchat, I recommend practicing by standing in front of a mirror pretending to talk to somebody or by chatting about nothing in particular with a friend or family member or with people at a low-key event where you are comfortable.
Even chitchat must be more than just exchanging pleasantries. To get people involved with you, you need to give them something of value. I do not mean something tangible. I’m talking about information, insight, humor, or a fascinating piece of trivia, some piece of information that is both interesting and useful. Once people know they are always going to hear something worthwhile from you, they will go out of their way to talk to you.
Wherever you network, focus on remembering names. Concentrate on a person’s name when you are introduced and commit it to memory any way you can.
To make a positive impression during introductions, use a firm handshake and a smile and look people in the eye. Don’t just say, “Pleased to meet you.” Mean it.
Then immediately start looking for common ground. It does not matter who the person is or where you are; you can always find something you share. Although the link may be someone you both know, it can also be a mutual interest, a hobby, or some aspect of what you do for a living.
The best way to find common ground is to ask questions, lots of questions. This not only elicits information; it helps you build rapport. Most of us love it when others ask us questions about our favorite subjects: ourselves.
In addition to being flattering, asking questions shows that you are strong, intelligent, and curious, and that you have leadership skills. By questioning, you set the conversation’s agenda. That’s why successful, powerful people almost always ask a lot of questions.
If you’re a smart networker, you will spend about two thirds of the time talking about your fellow conversationalist, one sixth of the time talking about other people/issues/ideas, and the final sixth talking about yourself and your interests, because if you do nothing but ask questions, the other person will start to feel interrogated.
One of the most common questions you will be asked in an informal networking encounter is, “What do you do?” Be prepared to answer clearly and concisely in less than 30 seconds and in words anyone can understand.
Things to Do with Your Database
For best results, informal networking efforts must involve organizing and recalling information about the people you meet. That’s why I always offer my business cards and never go anywhere without them. I keep a stack in each of my suit jackets and coats, in my wallet, in my briefcase, in my home, and in my car.
When people don’t respond to your business card by offering one in return, ask for it. As soon as you return to your office, enter its information into whatever database you use. By now, I have about 1,000 names in my personal database list and almost 5,000 email addresses in my professional database. Good list management techniques are necessary, of course, to organize the list, maintain it, and keep it current.
Once you have a decent list, find reasons to contact the people on it periodically. If you know someone’s birthday, put it on your electronic calendar as a recurring event, and when the reminder pops up, send a birthday greeting via email or snail mail. If you run across an article that reminds you of a person, send it with a note. And always make sure you’re sending something more valuable than a “Hi! Hope you’re doing well!”
If you do enough networking, you start to feel a natural rhythm. Gifted networkers appear to transition effortlessly from one interpersonal situation to another. They start speaking to someone and, before leaving that conversation, they introduce someone else, essentially finding their replacements.
Ultimately, good networking is a form of marketing, and, as in any marketing endeavor, the principles of repetition and frequency are of paramount importance. That means your networking efforts do not end until you put yourself out to pasture.
Three More Tips for Reluctant Networkers
Learn by observing others. Think of someone you know who is at ease working a room. Watch that person; study that person; imitate that person.
Hold a drink at a social function, both because it gives you something to do with your hands and because it means you can look down at it every once in a while instead of staring constantly into someone’s eyes. It needn’t be anything stronger than a soda.
Like a coach psyching athletes for a big game, increase your chances of success in a networking situation by imagining yourself doing well.
Jeff Beals is a real estate executive, radio talk-show host, college instructor, and author of the new book Self Marketing Power: Branding Yourself as a Business of One. For more information, visit selfmarketingpower.com.