Watch Your Lanyard Language! 7.5 Tips to Becoming a Networking Ninja
I have a bundle of them hanging from a hook in my office. Each one identifies the event title, my name (often misspelled), and the organization I represent. We drape them around our neck like a dog’s collar, and glance toward the upper abdomen of each person as they pass us by.
Lanyards serve a purpose. They are reviewed prior to an initial handshake, and act as an icebreaker between two individuals engaging each other within the herd. But, for some, they offer permission to forget everything they ever learned about basic communication skills.
Among a vast sea of sponsor booths, high top tables, and charging stations, people gather to network, make connections, and establish relationships with other human beings. Why does something so simple seem to force even the most seasoned professional to splash on an extra ounce of Drakkar Noir, and whip their hand out faster than Sharon Stone in the Sam Raimi’s film, The Quick and the Dead?
For 99% of the population, a large gathering of people smashed between the partitioned walls of a hotel event center is uncomfortable and unnerving. But for the 1%, like me, it’s like a Kmart Blue Light Special, and there’s a massive discount on relationships.
My name is Andy Sokolovich, and I want to Win Others Over.
GALLUP, as part of their StrengthsFinder assessment, identifies us WOO-Warriors as people who love the challenge associated with meeting new people and winning them over. We derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and establishing a connection.
The ability to network, without coming off as a total sleaze ball, is a strength. It was only recently that I began to realize that my talents opened doors to new possibilities. And when others began asking me how they too could work toward becoming a better networking ninja, I figured it was time to put my thoughts down on paper.
Like all great blog posts, I am going to create a list. Why? People love lists because they know that there will be an end. If I say that I’m going to share 7.5 Tips to Becoming a Networking Ninja, the reader can calculate how long it’s going to take them to consume the information. It works, makes sense, and has proven to be accurate. I recommend it.
And that leads me into my first tip.
1) There is beauty in brevity
When we are nervous our speech rate increases. Like the beating of a humming bird’s wings, our words fly out in a series of sounds that we can only hope result in a sentence. It’s a physical reaction to an uncomfortable situation. The solution? Keep it short. It’s called small talk for a reason. Keep your sentences succinct and to the point. Leave the fact that you were a triple major in college out of the conversation. A shorter response on your end, allows the other person to time provide a response. Use that time to take a breath, and scan the crowd.
2) Don’t tie your boat off to the closest dock
Each person you meet is important. Every interaction you have should be treated with care and respect. But if you want to take full-advantage of the opportunity, you’ll want to stretch those legs and take a few laps. Square your shoulders, remove your hands from your pockets, and walk like you’ve been sprinkled with a dash Don Draper dust. You chose to attend the event because you wanted to meet new people. Tying that half-hitch knot to the closest anchor is not going to return the results you desire.
3) Business Card Buffet
That 3.5” by 2” piece of cardboard is like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Avoid dealing out your business cards like a game of Texas Hold ‘Em before your cheeks hit seat. People want to feel special, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that they do. If you get all Oprah and give everyone at the table your card, what does that say about the level of importance you are placing on the individual conversations that follow? If you make a real connection, make the exchange. When they hand you their card, take a second and jot down a short note on the back. When they ask you what you wrote, tell them you penned the words Follow Up. This will act as a reminder to yourself, but ensures that new relationship starts out on a secure of foundation of mutual respect.
4) Touch is NOT taboo
We all know the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. Physical contact has a tremendous positive affect on the memory. If you want to be remembered, let your hands do some talking. Some of history’s greatest networkers understood this. The back of the arm above the elbow, the shoulder, or a handshake with the left hand clasping the two. These are my three go-to touch tactics. They do take practice. A second too long, or a jittery escape, and you’ll create the impression that you’ve had one too many neat bourbons. Master it and be memorable.
5) Humor Beings
Humor helps relieve stress. I try to inject it whenever appropriate. Keep your jokes light-hearted and in good taste. Never target someone in the audience to be the butt of your quick quip. You never know the connections your small audience may have with the subject. And I shouldn’t have to say this, but avoid humor based on religion, ethnicity, and sex. I’ll throw politics in there as well, but I’ll trust you to gauge the audience. There’s wealth in wit, and one would be wise to leverage it.
6) Die with Me, Mine, and I
Even if you are a solo professional, and are void of a team or support staff, use the words us, we, and together when sharing stories of your successes. I have yet to meet a successful person that reached a pinnacle without the aid of others. Too much focus on your own accomplishments will cause you to look self-absorbed, and perceived as the Chief Horn Tooter in Youville. There’s a deep-rooted respect shown to professionals that acknowledge others and the roles they have played in reaching a goal or milestone. If appropriate, use their names as if they were sitting at the same table. It will not go unnoticed.
7) Watch Watcher
When networking, a watch is decorative. Unless there is an emergency, peek in private. Nothing good will come from glancing at your watch while engaged in a conversation. Your focus needs to rest, if not within the eyes, right along the bridge of the nose. Looking at someone in the eyes is a sign of respect. It demonstrates a heightened level of engagement in the conversation. It’s also reveals strength and confidence. Don’t ruin the moment by scanning the Seiko.
7.5) The Man in the Mirror
I made this a .5 on my list because, one, I like to be different, and two, it’s something you already do but may not be aware of its importance.
Always make time for a self-check. That piece of lettuce from the dressed wedge salad will not remove itself. We would hope that someone would do us the decency of revealing the existence of our dental doggy bag, but we’ve all hit the car following the long day and witnessed Mr. Green Jeans wedged beneath the gum above our right incisor. Crap! How long has that been there? Avoid the embarrassment. Take time to check your appearance.
So, there you have it. I didn’t share any new ideas that will fall like a bombshell on your existing networking game plan, but I hope that I was able to provide you with some stuff to consider. Networking can be scary, but it roots rest in the human desire to connect with others. Underneath each plastic sleeve dangling from the woven thread of a custom lanyard is a person; a mere mortal looking to for the same thing you are.
A meaningful professional relationship. And maybe a free lunch.
The WOO Warrior
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