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Power Networking Tips: unleashing face-to-face communication

“It’s not who (or what) you know. It’s who knows you.”

Last week Wednesday, the University of New Orleans (UNO) Alumni Association, Jamaica Chapter, had a power networking luncheon to mark the university’s tenth anniversary. The ever-fresh, Minna Israel, Managing Director of RBTT Bank gave the main address and her topic was “Building A Successful career: Unleashing Your Networking Skills”. Turns out that networking really is not as hard as it seems, if you just put your mind to it.

Truth time now: when you or I go out to an event, especially if it is a work-lunch/dinner related event (meaning that our company will be footing our food/liquor bill) what is the first, second and last thing we think about? What’s on the menu of course! For many of us, we never ever think about how the professional contacts we can make at these events will impact on our careers. But, the truth is that more than seventy-per cent of hiring connections are made as a result of face-to-face connections.
Don’t focus on the food
While we are reaching across our neighbor’s chest for the bread rolls and butter, we don’t even give a second thought about how, just asking for a name or business card and expressing an interest might put us in the way of getting a cushier job and making us step up inna life. It was no surprise then that one of the networking tips Ms. Israel gave to the ballroom full of professionals was, “Don’t focus on the food” because, and I am leveling with you here, many of us walk with our bellies directly in our hands, as my mother would say.
The intensity of our enthusiasm for attending certain work assignments or seminars is directly in proportion to whether or not ‘food’ will be there. As if food is some elusive and scarce celebrity and we are the world’s most overly-enthused photographer in it’s weird paparazzi. And I am not saying that this ain’t so based on the high prices of certain food items. Dang! Did you just see where Reuters reported that corn prices rose to record highs on Monday and looked set to climb further as torrential rains threatened to reduce further U.S. crop prospects in a market already facing tight supplies and surging demand? So, anyway the moral of this story – Don’t Focus on the Food.
Take a sandwich to a buffet?
Secondly, the whole idea of networking is not to sit with, meet and greet the same persons you meet, sit with and greet everyday. You know them already, search for fresh blood and newer persons to annoy with your boring stories about the true nature of your boss’s jack-acity. If your friends haven’t told you already, I will. “We have heard (and heard) all your stories before. So either get some new stories or get some new friends.” That’s taking it to the extreme of course but what’s the point of going to an event and only mingling with the people who you know? O.k. so I am back to the food argument again: would you take a sandwich to a buffet?

Feign a conversation
I know it can be painful to enter into a room almost full of strangers and only gravitate towards the familiar faces that you know. In another life-time I was that stranger at the door who would refuse to “mix and mingle” choosing instead to turn up just as the function is about to start. I have friends who were as shy or anti-social as myself who, rather than start a conversation with a total stranger and face rejection or unwelcomed advances, would feign a conversation with our purses or cell phones. So Ms. Minna advises people like us when networking to go with an upbeat attitude and a game plan. Please fellas (and some ladies too) don’t let the endgame be to see if you can drink (or eat) $10,000.00 worth of “the people dem” liquor or food, because that’s what your overtime (that you’re not getting paid for anyway) would add up to. For example, make it your goal to meet at least ten new people at that event. I have stayed in a corner and watch some of the smartest people work a room, moving from group to group of people and even forming groups of their own.

Go with business cards
Ms. Israel also advises us when networking to go with business cards. And this is true because, no matter how fabulous and fierce we think we are looking that day, Mr. Big will not remember our name and the position we held in XYZ Corporation. But, if you hand him/her a card, chances are he will put it in his card holder and hook you up with a job/call/contacts when the need arises. And besides in this day and age when business cards can be done on your own computer it really is gauche to be begging/borrowing a pen and a piece of paper to write down someone’s name and phone number.

Another power tip that will help is to develop a 30-second elevator speech or advertisement about yourself. Practice it. Trust me it is very un-cool when someone asks about your company or your job and you preface your answer with the ever-so-eloquent sounding “eehhmm or aahhmm”. Need I say more?

I think the best thing I learnt from Ms. Minna’s networking tips is the fact that givers gain and one should go to an event with the mind-set of identifying what the person you are connecting with needs, and how you can help them accomplish this goal. In fact to be very practical you could try giving two business cards and asking for two, one to keep and one to pass along.


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