Networking is an art that requires practice to develop.
On Tuesday, ACS Webinars hosted Bonnie Coffey, a speaker from an organization called Contacts Count. Bonnie spoke to audience members at the ACS National Meeting in Denver about professional networking.
Thanks to ACS webinars, folks like myself who are not in Denver right now could watch the live webcast. If you missed it on Tuesday, you can watch the recorded webcast online.
In my previous post on networking, I presented several tips for making connections with other professionals, namely those pursuing careers you’re interested in. I mentioned how professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, or even a simple google search, can be used to find people you want to talk to, then you can follow up with emails, conversations, or informational interviews.
Bonnie’s talk focused on the face-to-face networking that takes place during events, such as at conferences like ACS National Meetings.
In this blog post, I’ll discuss the advice Bonnie has for up-and-coming scientists for building their network and getting into meaningful face-to-face conversations with other professionals.
So, you’re at a networking event and you see someone you might want to talk to. You go up to them and say “Hi!”
What’s next? Bonnie describe three key moments, or things that happen when you meet somebody:
- You exchange names
- You ask: “What do you do?”
- You ask: “What’s new?” or “What’s going on?”
The Name Exchange
We can all empathize with this situation: You introduced yourself to someone, they told you their name, then 30 seconds into the conversation you realize you’ve already forgotten their name. How embarrassing!
To better ensure that you’ll remember someone’s name after they’ve shared it with you, Bonnie offered the following tips: repeat that person’s name, ask about their last name (if they didn’t offer it), then look at the person’s nametag (if they have one) so that you have the visual to imprint that person’s name in your memory.
Then when you share your name, go slowly and break it down. Take a breath between the first and last name. This is what Bonnie calls this the Forrest Gump rule: “My name is Forrest, Forrest Gump.”
My name is Christine, Christine Herman. Got it.
You can also use business cards during the name exchange portion of a conversation. Bonnie recommends wearing a jacket that has two pockets: one for holding your business cards, the other for holding the cards you get from others.
But what if you tried your bestest and you still forgot the person’s name?
It’s okay. Instead of saying, Doh! I forgot your name! What’s your name again?, just say: I remember you, tell me your name again, or something along those lines.
“What do you do?”
Bonnie recommends that everyone entering a networking event should prepare themselves with the BEST/TEST. This is a two-sentence explanation of:
- One thing you do BEST
- A time you saved the day, solved the problem, or served the client.
This is best explained with an example. If someone is a business analyst, instead of saying “I’m a business analyst,” she can say, “I help project the costs of our company over the next ten years. Last week, I advised the CEO of my company on a business decision… (describe).”
Basically, it helps people get an idea of what you do, which is more useful than just stating your title with the company.
“What’s new? What’s going on?”
A conversation will naturally progress from introductions to a discussion about… well, whatever you want to discuss with that person. So Bonnie offered some tips for guiding the discussion to get what you’re looking for out of it.
To do this well, you need to know what you are looking for.
For example, if you are at a networking event and you know that you’re trying to meet other people who have started up small companies and talk to them about their experiences, state that up front. Even if that person doesn’t fit that category, they may know someone else who does, or they may have some other advice tangential but still relevant to what you’re looking for.
Getting into a conversation is one thing, but what about when you need to get out of it and move on to talk to someone else?
Bonnie gave practical advice on how to end conversation graciously: Refer to your agenda (i.e. what you’re looking), let them know you appreciated their time and hearing about what they do, and then explain that you’ll be going over to talk to someone else, perhaps a person they referred you to. You can invite them to come along as well.
Some other networking advice: focus on being a good listener, and strive to make your network as diverse as possible in terms of gender, ages and ethnicity.
During Bonnie’s talk, I thought to myself: You can learn about all these techniques and read about how to network, but if you don’t go out there and just start doing it, it will remain theoretical. And what good is the knowledge if you don’t put it into practice?
Bonnie ended with a charge to the audience: “Make networking an art, not an accident. So go out there and make those contacts count.”
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