Surveys indicate that 50% to 75% of people found their last job through networking. You can network several ways, including networking by phone, giving a presentation, or networking face-to-face. This article will focus on three types of face-to-face networking: one to one, one to many (e.g., in a meeting), and many to many (e.g., at a conference).
There are many opportunities for face-to-face networking, including professional association meetings, social gatherings, and job fairs. The mechanics, tips, and tools in this article are applicable to all three types and to the different situations. You must decide which types and places work best for your face-to-face networking.
But first, here is a short quiz about networking.
A) To meet people
B) To get a job
C) To make money
D) Next Wave told you to
Why network among strangers?
A) To tell people you're looking for a job
B) To build relationships
C) To get calls when job openings and opportunities occur
D) Next Wave said it would be good for me
When networking you should ...
A) Talk about yourself
B) Talk about your ideal job
C) Ask questions and build rapport
D) Talk about Next Wave
If you answered, respectively, A, B, and C, then you are on your way to success. You'll also recognize that it's possible to break effective face-to-face networking down into three component parts: Meeting the Person(s), Establishing Rapport, and Communicating Effectively.
Meet the Person
Face-to-face networking begins with attitude and body language. You may recall learning that dogs sense fear; well they--like people--can also pick up on a person's attitude. A useful attitude is an important aspect of networking. Useful attitudes include being warm, enthusiastic, relaxed, curious, helpful, patient, and interested.
Insider's Tool #1: Finding a Positive Attitude
Try this technique to get a positive attitude before a face-to-face networking situation. Find a quiet spot, close your eyes, and picture a time you had a positive moment. Recall the sights, sounds, and physical sensations. Intensify the sensations. At the height of the sensations, squeeze together the thumb and forefinger of your writing hand, then relax them. Practice this several times. When that face-to-face networking situation arises, squeeze your thumb and forefinger as a trigger to recall the attitude.
Just as it does with other animals, human body language also sends a message. Body language can create a positive or negative presence--the degree to which an individual attracts attention and how they represent themselves. There are four elements to positive body language that conveys a positive presence: standing with palms open, making eye contact, giving a welcoming smile, and offering a pleasant greeting.
Insider's Tool #2: Making Positive Eye Contact.
To determine if you make positive eye contact, think of a face-to-face conversation you had today and try to recall the other person's eye color. Practice this observation in several settings until it feels natural. This simple exercise can help you start to focus on making more genuine eye contact when in conversations.
A welcoming smile offers a simple but effective message. At a recent training session I conducted, fewer than half of the participants were able to identify their own welcoming smile.
Insider's Tool #3: Practice Your Best Smiles and Greetings
Ask friends to tell you which of your smiles are most genuine and make them feel welcomed. Practice those smiles in a mirror. Make them a conscious part of your body language for face-to-face networking.
A positive greeting incorporates friendly gestures, eye contact, and a smile. The greeting should also be in a pleasant tone and use the other person's name. Use of a person's name communicates a message of familiarity. Also, repeating a person's name after being introduced immediately acknowledges that you are listening.
These basic tools will help you become ready to start meeting people. Once you've met someone, though, you will also want to create a positive connection with that person--to establish a personal rapport. One technique to build rapport is using synchronizing skills, adjusting your physical and vocal tools to be in tune with the other person. Synchronizing your physical attributes can include aligning gestures, body posture, body movements, facial expressions, and even breathing. You can also synchronize vocal attributes including tone, volume, speed, pitch, rhythm, and verbal fluency. Verbal fluency is using words that the other person prefers. It is analogous to trying to speak to someone using their native language. As with speaking a foreign language, use preferred words only to the degree that you are familiar with their proper use.
Insider's Tool #4: Practice Synchronized Conversations
Focus on synchronizing when having a conversation with a partner. After 1 minute, stop and reverse roles and then discuss what you each observed. Was the synchronizing subtle or was it obvious mirroring? Provide each other constructive feedback. It may help to have a third person as an observer to provide feedback.
It is important when synchronizing to make sure the words, tones, gestures, and body language are all congruent, i.e., send the same message. Insider's Tip: To build rapport, observe the person(s) prior to approaching them to network. This allows you to identify their physical and vocal styles.
Effective networking requires creating a dialogue. You can accomplish this through exchanging information and finding ways to assist one another. The first rule of effective communicating is ask, don't tell. Use open-ended questions--those that begin with who, what, when, why, where, or how.
Another effective technique is providing details from which the listener can easily extract information and then respond. One way to do this is by adding an information tag to your greeting, for example, "Hi, I'm David and I am a scientist." This expands your greeting and provides an opportunity for the listener to respond. Often they will either mimic your response or they may respond with a question, such as, "What type of scientist?" If they respond with an open question, a dialogue can begin. If they mimic your greeting, then you need to use an open-ended question to get the person talking.
Insider's Tool #5: Practice Using Open-Ended Questions
With a partner, practice using open-ended questions by having one person start by asking an open question to which the other person must respond with an open question. Go back and forth for a minute. The listener should notify the speaker if they do not use an open-ended question.
Insider's Tool #6: Become an Active Listener.
Active listening is giving the speaker feedback that acknowledges you heard and understood what they have said. This is different from paraphrasing. In paraphrasing, you are restating what the speaker indicated. In active listening you are extracting information from what they said and responding with new information that relates to it. A simple example would be: Person A says, "The job market is very competitive." Person B responds, "Yes, jobs I have applied for have received resumes from many qualified people." People like to know that they are being listened to. This is a way to show you are listening and participating in the discussion.
Putting It All Together
By practicing useful attitude, open body language, synchronizing, and active listening, you can master the three important tools to successful face-to-face networking. This article provided you a blueprint and tools to help hone your networking techniques. However, it is up to you to apply these to gain the Insider's Edge on face-to-face networking.