Every Thursday in the Washington Post “Tech Thursday” Business section there is a listing of networking events in a column called “Face Time”. Similarly at the Washingtonjobs.com web site, information about seminars and networking events is posted in the “Calendar of Events” section. Open almost any job or career-oriented publication and you find notices of networking events where people gather in person and communicate with each other.
The information communicated varies by the purpose of the event. Some organize in order to link venture capital sources with business founders who need the capital. Some organize to provide political contacts, while still others exist to teach or to provide a social setting with people of like interests or lifestyles. Most common to the readership of this publication (WashingtonJobs.com) are networking events that link jobseekers and employees with technology employers and others who can help provide jobs and advance careers.
In such networking settings, one-on-one communication skills and social etiquette are important to the image you project and the lasting impression you make on others. The people you meet won’t care about your knowledge and skills if they can’t stand talking with you when they meet you.
Notice that I just said talking with you rather than talking to you. The “with” implies two-way communication where you are as involved in communicating as is the other person with whom you are networking. You won’t get the chance to arrange an interview and promote your resume if you turn-off the person who can grant you that interview when you meet them at an event.
Let’s examine some techniques to help you network one-on-one more effectively.
Nametag on the right. If name tags or badges are distributed at your event, wear yours on your right lapel or on the right side of your chest, below the shoulder and high above the breast line. When you reach out with your right hand and shake hands with someone your body naturally turns to the left. The other person gets a full, clear view of your name when you wear it on your right without looking at anatomical features at which they should not be looking.
[The] Eyes have it. Subtle information is communicated through your eyes. Sincerity, enthusiasm, warmth, dislike, and fear, to name a few emotions, are communicated through your eyes. Your lack of eye contact communicates negative messages such as impatience or disinterest. Make direct eye contact for a minimum of five seconds with each person you meet in order to come across to them as being interested in them and what they have to say. Even if you are not. You are at a networking event where interaction is expectedly of a fleeting nature. You will make a more long-lasting impression if you make meaningful direct eye contact. It will make you stand out as appearing more caring and as being a more attentive listener. Who better to impress with your attentiveness than the person with whom you want to schedule a follow-up meeting or interview.
Tell ’em in 15-to-30 seconds. You learn in business school or in preparing for an interview to develop an “elevator speech” – that pitch that you can make to someone in the time it takes an elevator to travel from the first floor to the executive suite. When you meet someone at a networking event, that someone is likely looking to see whom the next person is that they want to meet almost before your handshake with them is finished. If you are looking to convey your career aspirations to this person you’d better be able to capture their attention, say what you want, and get some sort of commitment from them before you lose them to the next handshake. You have 30 seconds max to succeed with the effort.
Warm, dry, and firm. These are the three characteristics of handshakes that impress. If you were not taught how to shake a good handshake at an early age – and most women were not – then practice shaking hands with a firm grip. The palm of your hand should be dry and your hand should feel warm (or as warm as it can feel if you’ve just come in from a cold winter’s trek.) Do not engage in a who’s-the-strongest? match by wringing the hand of the person with whom you shake. Extend your right hand to the other person and grasp their right hand firmly. Shake two or three times and then release. Don’t linger hand-in-hand or the handshake crosses over to a personal flirt.
On the wagon. When people give up drinking alcohol and suddenly resume their alcoholic intake they are considered to have fallen “off the wagon”. I therefore consider the term in reverse to imply that the lack of alcohol is getting on the wagon. Networking events frequently include food and alcohol. You want to be the sober one – the one in control – at the event. Eat with moderation, especially foods that make talking difficult or are particularly pungent. Avoid alcoholic beverages, as tempting as they may be. You want to be in full control of your faculties while you are networking for you future. You want to be clear-headed and sharp in order to communicate effectively. Leave the drinking for social hour. If you absolutely have to appear as though you are drinking in order not to offend your host, a glass of ginger ale or seltzer water looks quite convincing, especially if you sip its contents as slowly as you would an alcoholic drink.
Right hand free. Hold food and drink in your left hand so that you can shake hands and exchange business cards with your right hand. With apologies to left-handed readers, conventional social norms dictate that you shake hands with your right hand. Therefore you need to keep your right hand free. Since the hand is free you can also pass out your business card while still holding food or drink in your left hand.
Keep it fresh. Carry small breath mints like Tic Tacs. Use them frequently. Use small ones in social situations because you must be able to speak succinctly and clearly. Small mints as opposed to larger ones like Altoids less impede your tongue. Networking is an up-close affair and your breath is very important to how long someone remains conversationally close to you. The longer they remain in conversation with you, the more information you can exchange with them.
Whether you attend a Netpreneur “Coffee and Dough-nets” session or meet after work at the Revolution Café or check out the next job fair and networking event, practice your communication and social skills to make a positive, memorable first impression. It just might have a direct influence on your own bottom line.