Want to become a better networker? Here’s how to increase your comfort level before and during events

By Maria Guida

Savvy businesspeople know that to get ahead, they cannot rely solely on doing their jobs. In today’s competitive job market, the professionals who stand out are the ones adept at networking, and turning the relationships they cultivate into economic value.

You can become an effective and eloquent networker when you:

  1. Sharpen your personal relationship-building processes
  2. Become organized, disciplined and proactive when reaching out to business contacts and
  3. Focus on giving before getting

These three abilities will help you drive business development, because big relationship networks can produce big opportunities for closing sales in the long run.

Most people have been forming relationships their entire lives, but the process in business settings may still seem daunting, because people are rarely taught how to network well. Instead, professionals are often expected to “just know how.” The major barrier is fear: fear of embarrassment, rejection or failure.

To successfully overcome these barriers and become a champion networker, you should focus on learning, rather than telling. Throughout your career, you may have developed skill in talking about yourself, your projects, opinions and successes. However, you may not have been taught the value of meaningful listening and learning when building business relationships. The goal in building rainmaking relationships from networking is cooperation.

Listen actively to networking partners

During your networking conversations, ask questions, listen and do not interrupt others with stories, opinions, solutions or personal experiences. The immediate goal of your networking conversations is to learn about the other person, not to sell your products or services.

Here are some questions to ask your conversation partners, to start and maintain meaningful conversations:

  • What are the most important things you’re working on right now?
  • What do you want to accomplish this year?
  • What are the biggest barriers to meeting your goals?
  • What can I do to help you achieve these goals?

Asking questions and truly listening to the answers will help build a relationship and will let the other person know that you are interested in giving as well as getting. 

The most important thing is to let the other person do most of the talking and to listen carefully for ways to help that person achieve his or her goals. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it is the key to the entire process. You goal in networking: begin building relationships by giving before you get.

Giving before you get makes it much more likely that the other person will want to collaborate. Giving may include:

  • Introductions
  • Business or personal suggestions
  • Information
  • Invitations
  • Volunteering to help with a civic organization or charity the other party feels strongly about or
  • A piece of free counsel on a subject of interest to your conversation partner

Monitor your level of formality and use of humor

Don’t become too informal with people too quickly.

Even though your new acquaintances probably seem very receptive to you, you may not have an accurate picture of how comfortable they actually feel in the moment. Cultural background and personality style both play a part in norms of formality and therefore, a wise strategy is this: Find a physical and verbal demeanor that is comfortable for you — and what we might call “register neutral:” neither too formal nor too informal.

Also, be sure to use caution when attempting humor with people you have just met.

Individual sense of humor is a very complex and mysterious phenomenon. In addition, culture and individual personality play a strong role in what a person finds funny.

If you tell a joke or make a comment in jest that the listener doesn’t understand, misconstrues or simply does not find funny, your attempt at humor can easily backfire. Remember that it is very difficult to repair any erosion of rapport with someone you’ve just met.

If you feel compelled to use humor with a new acquaintance, stick to self-deprecating humor. Most people will appreciate your humility and ability to poke fun at yourself.

Energize yourself before networking

Before networking, you can energize yourself when you are feeling tired or sluggish. Do this in a private spot or the restroom:

  • Extend your right arm in front of you at shoulder height, and shake your right hand vigorously as if you are trying to shake your hand off your wrist.
  • Hold your arm out straight, with your fingers extended as far apart as possible. Drop your arm to your side. Notice how it tingles and how alive it feels. Repeat this with your other arm.

You can also decrease your nervousness. Center and relax yourself before you speak:

  • Inhale and feel your abdomen expand. Try to take 10 counts to inhale.
  • After the inhalation, hold your breath for a count of 10 before exhaling.
  • Exhale slowly, taking 10 counts to exhale.

(Repeat this sequence two more times.)

Increase your comfort level with the ‘Billy Crystal Technique’

When Billy Crystal hosted the Academy Awards for the first time, he went on stage with his toothbrush in his pocket. He knew that a small personal prop would remind him of “home” and help him feel more comfortable.

To decrease nervousness before a business talk, you can do something similar! Secretly carry something hidden in a pocket or on your person that will act as a “security blanket” for you while you are speaking. The simple awareness that it is there will help remind you that you are safe and can speak with greater comfort and ease.

Apply these techniques to become an eloquent networker, project a spirit of cooperation and begin building relationships that generate business!

Maria Guida works with leaders who want to develop power speaking skills to be more persuasive, productive and profitable. With her experience as an actor on Broadway, TV and film (working with Paul Newman, James Earl Jones and Kevin Kline), she works with executives to enhance their leadership presence and credibility and help them speak with passion, persuasion and pizzazz. Maria’s clients include executives at American Express, PricewaterhouseCoopers, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson. (Maria can be reached at maria@successfulspeakerinc.com or at 718-884-2282. Please visit www.successfulspeakerinc.com)