Great networking opportunities are constantly around us, but never confuse networking with schmoozing. That’s the advice of a classic book by Diane Darling titled, “The Networking Survival Guide: Get the Success You Want by Tapping Into the People You Know.”
“Schmoozing has the connotation that you are getting something from someone with no benefit to the other person,” says Darling, founder and CEO of Effective Networking Inc., a Boston-based company that teaches professional networking techniques. Prospective clients see right through that. “One of the biggest pet peeves I hear from people is that people want something from them without a thought of giving back.”
So you schmooze, you lose. Instead, to woo and win new clients, you need to be willing to give before you get in networking situations.
“Networks exist to foster self-help, to exchange information, to change society, improve productivity and work life, and to share resources,” says Darling, who has appeared on “NBC Nightly News” and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal. Her book “helps you build your networking skills, gain confidence in your networking abilities and make good things happen in your business, career and life.”
Here are just some of Darling’s top places to network:
1. The first few minutes of any local business group meeting is an excellent time to network. The atmosphere is casual and the conversation is light. Ask two or three neutral questions, like where did you work before?
2. Practice networking skills while in transit. Wonderful things might happen if you network when you travel by plane or train. When you sit down, smile and say hello. Ask if he or she is heading to a meeting or heading home. Respect the person’s body language and personal space. If the person shifts away from you, that’s a sign he or she wants to be left alone.
3. When you network on planes and trains, carry a book and have it visible. “When you first talk to someone, this indicates that you have something else to do and won’t necessarily talk his or her ear off,” says Darling. And if the person turns out to be boring, she adds, you can begin reading right away.
4. Network at conferences and trade shows. When you have a booth, make a point of catching people’s eyes when they approach. “If the person is also an exhibitor, ask a questions such as how many shows she or he typically attends in a year or what in particular she or he likes about this one,” advises Darling. If the person is an attendee, ask about him or her before you do too much talking.
5. If you are an attendee at the conference or trade show, is there someone specific you want to meet with? Read the bios of the people who will be speaking. Make the connection a week or so in advance via e-mail and by phone. But don’t over-commit yourself. “You can quickly run out of time,” warns Darling, “and canceling appointments at shows is not professional.”