Networking Starts With A Conversation

IMG_0018Happy Fourth of July! You may engage in celebrating today’s holiday as a party host or guest and either way, you’ll have the pleasure of expanding your social and possibly also your professional network.  From backyard barbecues to weddings, the meet and greet is on, for business or pleasure. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you will feel more at ease if when you encounter new people you can draw from a little repertoire of conversation starters that you can easily recall.

Here’s a list of conversation starters designed to make your summer celebrations a little more fun.  Keep in mind that when you approach a party guest, or a guest approaches you, smile and show that you welcome that person’s presence and you’d like to converse. While you might encounter the rare monosyllabic type who is too awkward to make small talk, in which case you can smile and slip away as quickly as socially acceptable, most partygoers and attendees at social or business functions are primed to meet and get acquainted with interesting people.  They’ll meet you halfway and together, you’ll create the conversation. You will likely be joined by others and that’s all for the good.

  1. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! Do you live in the neighborhood ?
  2. Hi, I’m ______; and you are…? Nice to meet you! How do you know (the host)?
  3. Have you been having a good summer, so far?
  4. Do you like the summer holidays better, or winter holidays?
  5. Are you a summer vacation person, or a winter vacation person?
  6. I’m walking over to the drink table.  Can I bring you something?
  7. The buffet looks delicious (holding your plate and drink)—may I sit here?
  8. As you see, I’m checking out (the hosts’) books. They have a lot of good titles. Do you see something here that you’ve read?
  9. Who is that singing? Could it be Sarah Vaughan?
  10. OK, pop quiz–How many oceans are there on planet earth?

I hope you meet some good people both today and at the social and business functions that you’ll attend this summer and that you’re able to build one or two relationships that outlast the events you attend.  Relax and allow yourself to have a good time.

Show interest in the people you meet. Tailor your conversation topics to those with whom you are speaking. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Listen more than you talk and listen actively.  At some point in a lively conversation you may want to jump in with a witty retort, but try to avoid interrupting and one-upping.

Finally, don’t over-share and if you meet someone with whom it appears there could be a mutual interest to talk business, exchange cards and plan to follow-up a day or two after the party.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Tall Ships Parade in Boston Harbor. June 16, 1017    Photograph by Kim Clark

 

 

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The Unwritten Rules of the Business Christmas Party

It’s countdown to Christmas and you may have already been to two or three parties by the time this post is published.  I will have been to three and one was at a business association.  I had a nice time.  I met a few people,  found out a few things about what is on the horizon for the association and got to know the president a little better.

In other words,  the Christmas party went as planned.  When attending a business Christmas party,  plan is the operative word.  Whether the party is hosted by your company,  a client,  or a business or professional association,  relax and enjoy the event,  but remember that you are at work.  Focus less on revelry and more on building or renewing relationships.

Always remember that you are being watched and evaluated,  because Christmas parties have a long-standing reputation of providing a stage for outrageous behavior.  Assume that those in attendance are waiting for someone to obviously over-indulge on alcohol,  or maybe slip out of the door with someone other than her husband.  Walk in the door making a good impression by following the requested dress code.  When none is specified,  wear whatever business attire means in that organization.

Create an agenda for the business Christmas parties you attend and polish your elevator pitch.  Besides chatting with your contact at the organization  (or your boss,  if you are an employee),  make a list of two or three other presumptive party guests that you would like to speak with,  whether or not you’ve met them,  and questions you’d like to ask.  However,  do not try to consummate a deal at the party.  Aim to set up a time to follow-up at a later date.

Because alcohol is inevitably involved,  it’s best to implement your action plan while everyone is relatively sober.  Arrive early.  Get your introductions made and have important conversations as early as possible.  Have maximum one alcoholic beverage and then drink mineral water with a slice of lime or lemon,  so that it looks as if you are having a cocktail,  to prevent yourself from drinking too much.  Leave sort of early.

Along with your must-meet list,  extend yourself and meet others.  When you see someone standing alone,  walk up and introduce yourself.  Start a conversation by asking if they come to this party regularly.  Meeting and greeting are the essence of every party.

When Christmas party invitations arrive,  recognize them for their potential networking value.  Think of a business Christmas party like a conference that doesn’t have presentations,  where you can meet or maybe reconnect with colleagues,  meet a new strategic partner or clients.  Yet do not make the mistake of talking too much business at the party.  Career coach Kathleen Brady,  owner of Brady and Associates Career Planners,  advises that  at the party  “You’re trying to create on-ramps to build new relationships.”  Now go have a good time!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Ideal Network

We’ve all encountered people whose primary goal is to create a vast network of  “contacts”.  These folks supersize.  They have an enormous collection of Facebook friends and they exchange business cards with everyone they meet,   inviting one and all into their LinkedIn network.

But what do their  “contacts”  actually mean to them?  Do such collectors of contacts follow networking best practices and act as a resource? Would they actually even recognize many of their  “contacts”  if they ran into them at the grocery store?  Too often,  the answer is no.

I’ve had the experience of being sucked into the clutches of a few super-networkers and found that when I emailed an easy and uncomplicated question,  my inquiry went unanswered.  Needless to say I severed the association but I’m sure my absence is neither missed nor even noticed.  Who can keep track of or maintain contact with 500 connections?

Well I’m happy to report that at last there is data that supports what has long been my gut feeling about networking.  Apparently,  when it comes to our network of relationships,  size matters and smaller is better.

Robert Cross,  Associate Professor at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and Robert Thomas,  Executive Director of the global consulting firm Accenture’s Institute for High Performance,  contend that the most effective networks focus on high-quality relationships,  ideally with people who come from diverse levels of the corporate and/or socioeconomic hierarchy.  Cross and Thomas found that a properly functioning network consists of about 12-18 people.  The ideal network provides guidance,  exposes us to fresh approaches to decision-making and problem-solving,  challenges us and also gives us validation and encouragement.

A diversity of professional and personal interactions pays numerous dividends,  socially and professionally.  We get to meet and rub shoulders with those who’ve lived different lives and therefore have different values,  perspectives and experiences.  We learn how to become more flexible and resilient.  Our decision-making capabilities improve because we incorporate additional information and we become better leaders and better business people.

Take a look at who you know and who you consider to be a member of  your network.  Who looks out for you and who do you look out for?  Cross and Thomas recommend that we cultivate relationships in these categories:

  • People who share or expose you to new information or expertise,  e.g.,  giving the heads-up on happenings in your business environment.  This could be a client or someone from the chamber of commerce or other business group.
  • Peers in other industries,  who can open your eyes to what other organizations consider to be best practices or smart business strategies.
  • Powerful people,  who can open doors,  make introductions,  cut through red tape,  provide useful inside information and mentoring.
  • Those who know and validate validate your work and can provide feedback and challenge you to get better (maybe a client,  peer  or boss).
  • Peers in a business similar to your own,  but who are based in another geography and therefore allow you to discuss business strategy and not worry about competition.
  • People who provide personal support,  good friends and family you can call on when things go wrong and you need to talk.
  • Outlets for spiritual and physical well being:  fitness,  meditation,  religion,  volunteering,  sports and hobbies.

As you review and perhaps revamp your network,  look to include people who bring good energy,  people who bring out the best in you.  Build relationships with people who see opportunities and know how to reach for them.  If you’ve been gestating an important goal you’d like to achieve,  think about who in your network can help you get there?  Is there someone you should reconnect with?

Most of all,   remember that networking is about building and maintaining relationships,  whether or not there is an immediate need to call in a favor.  Reciprocity rules,  so maintain contacts,  reach out and reconnect to good friends and colleagues and be generous when they are in need.

Thanks for reading,

Kim