Article Summary:An overview of networking etiquette, with tips to improve your performance.
Everybody is doing it. At least, successful people are doing it. And “it” isn’t even a dirty word. “It” is Networking. Successful business people network for a variety of reasons.
Career networking is an excellent tool for finding and landing your next great job opportunity. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, 94% of new job finders cited networking as their primary mode of job search.
Networking is also used to build relationships with potential and existing clients and vendors. Let’s face it, people prefer to do business with and refer business to people they know and trust.
Think you don’t have to network because you are not looking for a new job and are not in sales? Think again. A recent poll by Inc.com found that 48% of their readers believed that personal connections are the primary factor that most often leads to getting ahead in an organization. No matter how qualified you are, unless you have strong relationships with key players, your advancement opportunities are limited.
There’s even more to networking -- it’s an excellent source of information and ideas about events, trends, opportunities and industry news. You can also find support for your proposals and the chance to help others. Charitable fundraising is also driven heavily by personal and professional networking.
So what exactly is networking?
It’s simply building enduring relationships that are mutually beneficial. Not so simple is the ability to stand out from the networking crowd as being polished, professional and endearing. This ability gives you an edge to make an outstanding impression and outclass your competition. It comes from understanding and applying business networking etiquette.
Networking Etiquette Tips
Jump on the “Brand wagon”
Personal Branding is the message you send -- and your audience receives -- about you. Do you want to be known as a problem solver, a rain man, a philanthropist? Creative? Aggressive? Dynamic or Disciplined?
For your audience to receive your intended message, it must be genuine. Take your true skills and strengths, combine them with your passions and identify your unique promise of value to your clients, your employer, colleagues and other important contacts. This message becomes your personal branding statement.
When you are networking, one of the first things people will ask you is what you do. Take this opportunity to communicate your personal branding statement and make it shine. Avoid stating your job title; focus on the value you bring to your client. Be prepared to customize your branding statement to suit the situation, while still maintaining authenticity. For example, instead of saying you are a financial planner, share how your analytical skills and interest in helping others enables you to achieve high returns on your clients’ portfolios, while managing risk so they can sleep at night.
Impress with Your Impression
First impressions are the most lasting. Humans are very visual beings. More than half the impression you make is based on what people see. To make a positive visual impression, make sure you are well groomed and feel good about what you are wearing at all times.
Not only does your personal appearance speak about you, it also speaks to you. If you feel that you are appropriately dressed for the occasion, you will feel more confident and able to handle whatever comes your way in any situation. If you don’t feel good about your appearance, it can inhibit your confidence and you may find yourself avoiding speaking to people, leaving networking opportunities unrealized.
When you network, you are promoting your personal brand. Like any product, your packaging defines and differentiates who you are as a professional business person. Make sure your visual message matches your verbal message.
Know Your Desired Outcome
Before going to a networking meeting or event, ask yourself, “Why am I going?” Be specific, such as “I am going to speak to 10 new people today and get contact information for 4 of them.” Target individuals and research them on Google, or through mutual acquaintances so you are prepared to make small talk intelligently.
Your reason for going should not be to sell anything. You are there to meet people and develop relationships with them. Another reason is to “give to the group”. When you identify a group to attend regularly, ask the leaders how you can serve. Is there a committee opening? Is there some task you can perform to add to the success of the group?
The purpose of small talk is to break the ice and build rapport. Without rapport, there is no foundation to develop a relationship. Start with an introduction and a handshake. Follow with positive observations and questions about your immediate surroundings, such as “The speaker really took the time to research the audience.” or “What kind of work do you do?”
When you are engaging in small talk, keep your body language relaxed and confident. Lean in to show interest, but respect individual personal space.
For eye contact, the rule of thumb is 60%. This means look your companion in the eye 60% of the time. When you are not looking directly into the eyes, rest your gaze on the eyebrows or mouth. Don’t let your eyes stray too far away from the face. The goal is to achieve a good balance between a scary stare and evasive eye darting.
It’s easier to build rapport with someone if you remind them of themselves. Without being obvious, try to match pace and volume of speech as well as body language.
Spend 80% of your time listening and 20% talking. As Dale Carnegie wrote, “become genuinely interested in the other person and encourage them to talk about themselves.”
“Work” the Event
When you are at a networking event, recognize that everyone is there to network too. Make sure you don’t monopolize any one person’s time. Aim to spend a maximum of 10 minutes with each person. To end a conversation graciously, simply say, “It was a pleasure meeting you, perhaps we could have coffee in the near future,” and depart.
Enjoy a snack before the event so your attention will be focused on meeting people. Keep your hands free to shake hands and gesture. If you fancy a drink, carry it in your left hand so that your right hand is not wet and clammy from the sweaty glass.
Be prepared. Have a clean supply of business cards easily accessible. A slim business card holder that fits in a jacket pocket is ideal. Never take cards from your back pocket. You should never dig in your purse, fumble or make people wait while you retrieve your card. Present your card in a manner that demonstrates it is worth something. Ensure that the type is facing up and towards the other person.
When receiving a business card, take the time to look at it and comment favourably on some aspect of it, or ask a question that shows your interest.
Avoid standing at the bar. People may congregate there, but it’s not an ideal spot to engage people in conversation. Instead, stand near the food or dessert table where people are lingering and eating. You’ll find them more open to talking because people like to chat during meals and people are usually happy and receptive when they have ready access to food.
Keep in Touch
Your connection may start at a networking event, but the relationship is built over time. It’s important to follow up the first meeting in an appropriate fashion to keep the momentum and stay top of mind. You can achieve this by email or personal note, “It was a pleasure meeting you. I’ll call you in the next week or so to set up some time to get together.”
Another way to stay in touch is by periodically sending important information, articles or notification of a relevant, upcoming event. This demonstrates your understanding of a person’s needs and your willingness to be of service. You can also set up a Google news alert and send congratulatory notes when you learn of pertinent deals or promotions.
Take It to the Next Level
The most important business relationships are often created and maintained outside the traditional work environment. This means that you should be prepared to meet your networking circle at restaurants, sporting events, association meetings, fund-raisers, golf courses, seminars, workshops, conferences and conventions. Be committed to knowing and practicing the particular etiquette for these venues as well.
Understanding and applying networking etiquette will empower you to build and nurture your own network. These lasting, mutually beneficial business relationships begin with projecting an outstanding impression, but are sustained through trust and the investment of time and effort to help others.
Aviva Shiff, co-founder of Spark Training & Coaching Associates, helps businesses discover and amplify their talent through insightful assessment tools, relevant training workshops and strategic coaching. With over 15 years of corporate leadership experience in the financial services industry, Aviva is strongly focused on the development and implementation of training and coaching programs that are rigorously aligned with organizational purposes, values and goals. Aviva, a certified Expert in North American Business Etiquette, holds a Bachelor of Commerce Degree and has also been certified as a Human Resources Manager. She currently serves on the Board of Directors and chairs the Marketing Committee of Muki Baum Treatment Centres. For more information, visit: www.sparktac.com.