TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter – October 2003

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Drowning in Carpet Quicksand CartoonSurvival Skills for Business Social Events
Like it or not, attending "working social" events is critical to your business and career advancement. Networking has become an accepted… no, make that required… part of the business culture. The possession of a Killer Rolodex is probably THE most prized asset of a highly successful person. It truly is "who you know" (more accurately: who knows you). While you'll meet some good people during the normal course of your business day without venturing beyond the safe confines of your office... you'll miss out on the chance to make great new contacts. This article will be your guide to meeting the right kind of people, the right way.

The Where. "Business social" events come in many flavors: charity functions, professional society meetings, formal networking groups, businessperson's luncheons, trade shows, cocktail parties, and seminars, to name just a few. Your local business newspaper and/or general-interest newspaper will usually have a calendar of upcoming events for you to choose from. You can also put yourself on email lists to receive event notices and invitations. I publish a new event bulletin that lists metro New York happenings. The current listing is posted on the web at http://www.UrbachLetter.com/Event. If you're new to all this, I recommend sampling a wide variety of events to find the kinds you like the best.

The When. Many networking events are breakfast meetings, starting around 7:30 or 8:00 AM, and run for ninety minutes to two hours. People like these because they don't cut into the workday too much. On the other hand, most charity functions are luncheons or evening affairs, while most "fun" events like cocktail parties are scheduled after work. There are plenty of discretionary events for you to choose from... before, during, or after normal working hours. All things being equal, I prefer attending events that begin in the early evening. Luncheons can take a big chunk out of the middle of the workday, and early morning breakfasts interfere with my exercise time. Nonetheless, if it's an important event or is held by an organization I support, I'll make it my business to attend, no matter what time of day it's held.

The Why. Hopefully, you already know why it's important to "get out there" and become an active citizen of the business social world. Of course, there's a selfish component. You're hoping to meet people who will buy things from you, help advance your career, etc., but there has to be a broader motive… If you're only out for yourself, concerned exclusively about personal gain, you're a mercenary, not a citizen. I've met my share of networking mercenaries. Luckily, they're easy to spot. Just look for the dollar signs in their eyes. It's one of the reasons I prefer attending events that support charitable causes. If you're involved with a benevolent organization, it becomes quickly clear who's there to contribute and who's looking for some fresh meat. The meat eaters don't last long…

The Who. When I venture forth into the networking wilderness, I never know whom I'm going to meet. And I like it that way. While others may have very definite "objectives" regarding whom they want to speak with, I prefer serendipity. In fact some of my most rewarding business relationships have evolved from these random encounters. I firmly believe there's a parallel to my days as a single twenty-something. Back then, if I had it in my head that I was going to try and hook up that night… well, it just didn't ever happen. However, those nights when I just went out with the idea to relax and have fun with my buds… *that's* when the magic happened! So, I recommend dispensing with any agenda. Don't prejudge people (or choose a book by its cover). Quality comes out of quantity. Talk with everybody. Your mantra should be: "You never know…" And you really don't know, believe me.

The How. There's one rule for being a "successful" networker: Have Fun! Even if the event you're attending is "serious," that's no excuse for you to be uptight and unfun. Your objective is to have an enjoyable time and mingle a lot. This is key. You *must* relax and enjoy yourself. This comes more easily to some people than others. If you're on the shy side, I've got some ideas that might help you to come out of your shell. If you walk into the place and don't see a single person you know, just smile, extend your hand to the first friendly-looking person you see, and say, "Hi, I'm <your name>." It's really that simple. Smile, introduce yourself, and have a conversation-starter or two at the ready: "This is my first time with this group…," "How's the food?," "Where'd the market close today?," or some such. Sales trainer extraordinaire Jeffrey Gitomer has a great intro. He'll walk up to somebody new and say, "Hi, I'm Jeffrey Gitomer. How do you like me so far?" Don't think you could ever deliver a line like that? That it'd be too "unprofessional?" Then you need to loosen up. A lot.

The Law of Attraction. Want to know why some people "magnetically" attract others to them, while others repel? In junior high school, this was a big mystery to me. I initially thought the way to get people to like you was to impress them – by talking about the cool stuff I had done, desirable things I acquired, or my achievements. Naïve I know, but remember, I was 12 at the time. By 13 I figured out the way to get people interested in you was to be interested in them. Making friends was easy once I learned to ask the right questions. Not the third degree, but friendly questions about the other person and his or her world. It amazed me how quickly people opened up when somebody took an interest in their opinion. Still holds true today. There's actually a term used by CEO's: "Deep Listening." If you're with somebody who's a great listener, you feel as if you are the only person in the world. Needless to say, this is a rare quality. Most people are exceedingly shallow listeners. While you're talking, they're thinking about what to say next, about picking up the dry cleaning, whether you're a prospect for what they're selling, the lint on your jacket, etc. Luckily, it's easy for you to rise above this behavior. By asking friendly questions, and listening to the answers with empathy and full engagement, you will magnetize yourself.

How to Make an Introduction. In the course of your networking, you'll find many opportunities to make connections for people; usually by introducing two people in the room whom you know, who should know each other. Like many things in life, there's a right way and a wrong way. 40% of people get it wrong, according to a recent poll conducted by The Emily Post Institute. In formal situations, most of us know to introduce the more "important" person to the lesser: "Mister Big, I would like to introduce you to Joe Nobody." However, in most networking situations, the two people you're connecting are of equal stature. Usually you'll be in conversation with someone, and you'll spot somebody they should meet, or that third person will join your group. In this case, the person you were talking with first is more important: "Jane First, let me introduce you to Mary Newcomer. She's a good person to know." "Mary, this is Jane First. Jane's company manufactures widgets." Properly made introductions make everybody feel more comfortable.

Goodbyes. This is a bit tricky. You are there both to meet new people and to deepen existing relationships. A balance of quantity and quality. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, figure on each conversation lasting about 5 minutes or so. Much less, and it's just a business card exchange; much more, and you won't be able to get to everybody you'd like. Sometimes, there's a natural break, and you can move on easily. Other times, you have to disengage politely. I don't mind being courteously direct about it: "This has been great and I've enjoyed talking with you, but I'm going to mingle a little." Another oft-used strategy is the "human sacrifice." If you see somebody you know walking by, pull them into the conversation, and then leave! If you're with a group of four people or more, the dynamic may be different. If there's an active conversation going on, you may not want to interrupt the flow. In this case, just fade to the edge and quietly detach yourself from the cluster. If you're not comfortable doing that, just wait until a new person joins the group. When that happens, there's a natural readjustment, and an opportunity to exit gracefully.

Business Card Etiquette. Other cultures, particularly the Japanese, have this down to an art. When giving out your business card, present it face up so it may be easily read. I like to keep my cards in my jacket breast pocket so I don't have to fumble. It becomes a natural action to reach for one and present it with a bit of flair. Of course, you should always have a generous supply of biz cards on you when heading to an event. There's no excuse for running out. When receiving a card, treat it with respect. Take the time to study the card, comment on the logo or colors or something distinctive about it, and make sure you've got the proper pronunciation of the person's name. Also make sure the person's email address is on the card. I hope it goes without saying that your own card *must* have your email address on it. Without one, it telegraphs the message that you're out of date and out of touch. I recently was given a card by a businessperson that didn't have his email address on it. When I asked why, he said, and I kid you not, "I don't like getting all that spam." As if that's where it comes from. Sheesh. Another hope it goes without saying thing is: never turn down somebody's card when it's offered to you. That's incredibly insulting. When you get somebody's card, it's a smart idea to jot down a note on the back: where you met, something you talked about, etc. There's no sense in taking a card to later just throw it in a drawer. Do something with it, even if it's composing a one-sentence "nice to meet you" email message. Meeting people at business social events is all just a start to building meaningful long-term relationships. And *that's* what it's all about.

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