Secret to Successful Networking: Focus on the Other Person

National Federation of Independent Business, January 9, 2007

by Kelle Campbell

The terms "networking" or "schmoozing" more often than not conjure up images of blatant self-promotion at public events or functions. Trying to adhere to this concept can leave you stressed and ready to give up on the idea. However, if you go to an event with the intent of genuinely making the people you meet feel special, you'll go a long way to easing your own discomfort and furthering your goals.

Experts recommend the following tactics for putting both you and those you meet at ease:

Smiling
A pleasant smile communicates friendliness, enthusiasm and pleasure at meeting or seeing someone. That, in turn, makes the other person feel welcomed, accepted and important so that they have a positive feeling about interacting with you--often before either one of you has spoken.

Using People's Names
Everyone enjoys hearing another person saying their name, so whether you're meeting a person for the first time or renewing your acquaintance, say their name as you're greeting them and then again during the conversation. Remembering people's names makes them feel more comfortable with you.

Of course, everyone forgets another person's name occasionally. If this happens to you, don't be embarrassed. Simply say something like "I'm sorry, but my memory is temporarily on the fritz. Can you help me out?" Also, help people if you see them struggling to remember your name.

Conversation
When people enjoy talking to you, they will remember you in a generally positive way and be eager to see you again. Cathleen Hanson, director of the International School of Protocol (www.schoolofprotocol.com), recommends reading at least the headlines of your daily paper as well as buying a weekly news magazine or listening to public radio. She also suggests adding information about books, movies or topics that you found on the Internet to your conversational repertoire so you can easily talk about interesting topics.

However, Hanson cautions that while a good conversationalist adds to what the other person is saying, you should not boast or "one-up" the other person. If you have superior credentials, she says that your mind-set should be: "I respect you. I have something to add … [but] you don't need to hear all of my credentials right now."

Jacqueline Whitmore, author of Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (www.etiquetteexpert.com) advises learning whatever you can about people you know you're going to meet. "You can read their biography on their Web site. You can read about their company. You can ask friends about who they are." The purpose is to find out what you have in common with the person in order to enhance the upcoming conversation.

Look and Listen
Finally, Hanson says that you should strive to be genuinely interested in other people. That way, she says you will be completely present, and every person will be the most interesting person in the room to you at the time you're speaking to them.

Whitmore agrees, saying "when someone is listening to you and acknowledging what you're saying and reinforcing what you're saying, it makes you feel like your message is being heard and, in turn, it makes you feel very special."

This type of focus involves maintaining eye contact with that person. "That doesn't mean that you're staring the person down, but you're looking at the person most of the time," she says. And most importantly, you're not looking around the room to see whom you might want to meet next.

In addition, since people love to talk about themselves, Hanson suggests asking questions. However, unless you are in a trade or business environment, she advises against asking people about their occupations. "That is considered insulting," she says because it reveals information about people's social, economic, educational status that they may not want to reveal at that time. A more acceptable alternative is asking what they like to do, or how they spend their time.

A major advantage of paying attention to someone is that you usually find a reason to follow up after the event, whether it is providing referrals, resources such as magazine clippings or other information or just friendly notes that reference something that you remember from your conversations.

Many experts have cited the benefits of changing your networking mind-set to that of discovering what you can do for someone else. As Hanson says, the recipients will remember you as the person who was kind to them, which, in turn, will make them eager to help or do business with you. So start reaping the benefits of switching from "Here's what you can do for me" to "Here's what I can do for you."