We’ve written a lot about the components of professional networking: actively pursuing new connections, working your network to leverage your career goals, developing an “elevator pitch” … This month we’re going to drill into the process of meeting new people and explain some basic rules of etiquette. What is, for example, the politest way to make an introduction? Do we shake hands anymore? Is it okay to follow up with them later? Emily Post, in her quintessential handbook Etiquette, wrote of introductions: “An automatic and easy familiarity… leaves us free to turn our minds to the more complicated arts of conversation and listening.” We want to set you up for a comfortable first meeting to alleviate nerves or the awkwardness you might experience when trying to build new professional relationships. “Use your best manners” sounds a little school marm-ish, but truthfully, if you are cognizant of protocol and expectations, the people you meet will see you as confident and capable. The Introduction. Back in the day, you would probably be making the most of your networking connections at a conference or happy hour. But today, many of us are as likely to meet a new contact through a zoom call in our living room as we are at a social event. Let’s go through the different ways you might introduce yourself depending on the space you’re in: In person- 1. Stay away from walls and corners. Work your way to the center of the room because that’s where you’ll meet the most people. And, if you end up in a conversation that you don’t want to be in, being in the middle makes it easier to find an escape route. When someone is droning on and on at you while you’re standing against a wall, you are quite literally stuck. You need to be free to work the room. If you’re holding a beverage or a plate of food, try to keep it in your left hand. Keep your right hand free to shake someone else’s or, if shaking feels too unsettling, fist bump or wave. Remember, not everyone has returned to handshaking and there’s a chance some of us never will. If you are a handshaker, watch the body language of the person you’re meeting for the first time. If you don’t notice a flex in their shoulder or if their hand remains tightly at their side, a wave will be sufficient. If you don’t like touching hands, but they put out theirs? You could quickly wave and smile with your eyes. Or maybe nod and keep your arm down at your side. If all else fails, we’ve been through a lot together as a society and you should never feel badly saying, “Sorry, I’m just not comfortable shaking hands.” Properly introduce yourself. Have something prepared. A lot of us can’t even remember our favorite movie if asked on the spot. Tell them your title, your main function (in one sentence), and maybe what brought you to this event if the reason isn’t obvious. This is not the time for your elevator pitch, you can go into deeper detail about your work once you’re a bit further into the conversation. Facilitate easy introductions for others. If you are speaking to someone of a higher rank and one of your contemporaries comes over to say hello, introduce the lower-ranked person to the higher-ranked person instead of vice versa. And then, say a couple of things about your colleague to get the conversation going for them. Here’s an example dialogue: “Hello, General Smith, this is my cubemate, Jane Jones Jane came to the agency from an internship at EPA in the city.” On a screen- Take a minute before the meeting to set yourself up for success. Check your background to make sure it’s neat and there’s nothing inflammatory in view. Do not sit in front of a bare window, being backlit will give you a shadowy, garish appearance. I like to pull the reading light off our piano and position it in front of my laptop so that it shines slightly above my head. I want others on the call to be able to see when I smile and notice my engagement in what they’re saying. It’s okay to be a little more casual. Since your full name likely already appears on the screen, and you were presumably listed on the meeting invite, you can be briefer with your greeting: “Hi! I’m Nicole. I don’t think we’ve met before! It’s really nice to see you.” You can tell them a little about your job and might ask them, “So how long have you been working here?” or “Tell me more about what you do at Patent and Trademark.” Do advanced research. Before you hop on the call look at the names on the meeting invite and try to read a little about what each does. Not only is this polite, but also brevity is key with zoom networking because often the only time you have is the few minutes before the meeting begins. It’s helpful if you can start your introduction a few layers in because you already know their division and their title. Listening is your main function. Whether making a new connection online or in person, you should be listening more than talking. It sounds counterintuitive because of course you want them to know about what you do and your value at the organization. But this is your opportunity to create the want for connecting with you again in the future. Stay present and ask questions about what they’ve told you, instead of planning what you’re going to say next. Mind your posture and keep eye contact. Give an occasional nod so they know you’re listening. The truth is, if you make a new acquaintance feel good because you’re engaged in their message, they’ll be more likely to remember you. You might even paraphrase or repeat something said, such as “I can’t believe you lived in Chicago!” or “So you have been working here since you graduated college? That’s amazing!” Conversation manners. Here are some other things to keep in mind while in conversation: Listen to them carefully and see if you can find any commonalities (“You run marathons? or “You like to grill?”) Keep your hands out of your pockets. Instead, you can bend your elbows and clasp them in front it you, rest one on the back of a chair, hold something like a notebook or a coffee, or use them to emphasize your words. If you think there’s a chance, you might need to pick up your phone, tell them ahead of time- and it better be a good reason. (“Sorry I’m holding my phone, but my son got a flat tire and I’m just waiting for him to let me know AAA got there.”) If they’re a good conversationalist, maybe they’ll even leverage your honesty to point out something they have in common with you (“How old is your son? My just got his license last week!”). Follow up. It’s hard to meet people! Don’t let your efforts go to waste. Follow up quickly before the person has time to forget how much they enjoyed talking to you and be conversational to avoid sounding relentless or enterprising. In these modern times, email or text is sufficient. Mention something from your conversation, suggest meeting again, and offer your help too. Be specific about what you might be able to do for them in the future. Here is an example: “It was nice meeting you this evening. After hearing about your trip to Toronto, I’m dying to go! Let’s keep in touch and maybe meet for coffee next month? Would love to hear more about your divisional work. And if you ever have a question about the legal end of your project, call me.” Ask a mentor: We’ve shared broad etiquette strokes, but the culture of your organization will determine other rules you should keep in mind. Ask your mentor to help make a list: How specific should I be about my job when meeting new people? Is it okay to follow up with very senior leaders if we happened to meet? When I meet someone new, outside of my division, how should I keep the relationship going?
As the year winds down, pause and reflect on your career goals. Think back to when you were first hired. What kinds of plans did you set? Have you made progress against them? Are you content? What might bring greater satisfaction? Through this lens, begin setting professional intentions for 2019. While you organize, commit to enhancing your networks by making new connections and taking an active role in your community. In this newsletter we will share some tips and strategies for getting out there and making the most of every chance to meet people who can widen your perspectives and make a difference in your work experience. Stay Open-Minded Remember that networking won’t bring instant gratification. In other words, don’t measure your success by whether you secure a promotion or a new job after a first encounter. Think of networking as relationship-building. You can’t possibly know by reading a nametag or email signature line who might be of help to you. Be open to people who work in different divisions or unrelated job functions. Take time to get to know them, asking questions about what they do and about broad pressing issues like juggling family commitments and managing busy travel schedules. The truth is, these are topics people generally like to chat about- more than the technical functions of their job- and your taking the time to ask questions will make them feel comfortable and ensure that their meeting with you is memorable. Plan Networking in Your Calendar Write it down as a commitment because, honestly, that’s the only way you will make time for it. Set even small steps as a firm event in your calendar. For example, "Research organizational charts on the intranet.” Or, "Send congratulatory notes on LinkedIn.” Maybe even, "Check in with former cubical mate.” Maintain your network on a monthly basis. Have a Canned Opener Make introductions easy. To avoid sounding like a bore or fumbling over an explanation, have a loosely prepared opening statement. And be interesting! For example, "Hi, I’m John. You’ll be surprised to know I work at the tech desk. People think I just eat over our keyboards and never leave our screens. But I’ve worked in computer support for a long time and actually started as a travel support technician before coming to this organization.” Don’t Just Take, Give Them Something Too Be a thoughtful networker. Ask your new connection: Is there anything I can do to help you? You might offer a different perspective on a project they’re handling or even forward to them one of your best sample meeting agendas. If you meet someone for coffee, bring a third person- even if it’s just your regular lunch buddy. They will both benefit from meeting someone else. Consider inviting people to things outside of work such as yoga classes and museum lectures. Share powerful articles and book recommendations. Networking- Even for Introverts If the word "networking” makes you cringe and shrink uncomfortably in your seat, we have some tips and strategies to help even the most blushing introvert to network like a boss. Be Genuine. When making a new connection, you don’t need to sound like you’re looking for a favor or a job. Ask about things you really want to know. Chances are, if you’re interested in it, people are likely interested in talking about it. Arrive early. If you’re shy in large social situations, your knee-jerk might be to arrive 15 minutes late to networking events and socials. Next time try something different. Be one of the first to arrive. You’ll have an easier time speaking and connecting with one or two people at a time as they trickle into the event. Be on. Each of us has certain times of the day when we’re "on” or more energetic than others. If you’re an early bird, try to connect with someone for coffee before work. If the end of the workday puts a spring in your step, meet for dinner. Listen well. Want to know one of the best ways to stand out at a networking event? Let your listening skills shine. Instead of clamoring to be heard above the chatter, show your ability to stay cool, listen, and ask meaningful questions. Follow-up. Following up after making a new connection is a critical part of networking. If the social, face-to-face aspect leaves you feeling anxious, then take comfort in the follow-up. Back in the comfort and tranquility of your own office compose a short, thoughtful email letting your new acquaintance know how much you enjoyed meeting them. This is an easy opportunity to make sure they don’t forget you. Quick Guide to Creating Your Own Networking Opportunities Take your networking skills out of the office, but don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Take a few minutes each month to research events in your area and organize them in your calendar. Here are some ideas: Attend an Agency Sponsored Event or Program. Make a connection in a variety of diverse environments: town halls, retirement luncheons, office picnics. Volunteer to lead a cross-functional team or project. Join an employer sponsored affinity group: Blacks in Government (BIG), Federally Employed Women (FEW), Veteran and Military Affinity Groups, etc. Around the office Plan a "brainstorming” session with a co-worker. Ask them about their career goals and share yours. Can you introduce them to anyone in your network who might be helpful to them? Can they do the same for you? Make a point to introduce yourself to new employees or maybe even invite them to lunch. Smile! Earn a reputation as a "friendly” colleague- not only will your positivity set you apart from others, you will get to know a lot of people too. Collegiate Alumni Association Visit their website and register as part of their online community. Search the list of alumni chapters. Find yours? Check out upcoming events such as monthly football watch parties, crab fests, and community service opportunities. Reach out to leadership team to introduce yourself and let them know you want to get involved. Neighborhood Association Reach out to the board members to ask about upcoming initiatives that might need extra hands. Consider your own gifts- like to entertain? Consider hosting the spring barbeque. Are you a baker? Deliver baked goods to new neighbors. Prefer working with your hands? Organize a spring grounds clean up. Professional Associations Research organizations that are relevant to your industry, read their FAQs, pay close attention to membership guidelines and fees before joining. Look for instructions on joining their discussion list and signing up for job list emails. Subscribe to the organization’s monthly newsletter or periodical and share valuable pieces with people in your network. Eventbrite Visit Eventbrite and sign up for events in your area. Check out the section called "Business, Get Connected” to find out about networking events and workshops. Peruse upcoming events for TED talks or lectures that are relevant to your industry and invite a work friend to join. Nurturing your networks will get you in shape to achieve your 2019 career goals. Cast a wide net, be thoughtful and show them your authentic self. Someone you meet today just might be able to help you down the road. ASK A MENTOR Brainstorm with your mentor on some ideas for expanding your network. As them about their experiences and how networking has helped them in their career. Some questions you might ask: Do you attend any regular networking events? How do you “check-in” or maintain your network? What is your favorite opener when you meet someone new? How do you describe your job function succinctly to a new encounter? What kinds of things can you offer to help someone else who is hoping to expand their network? Do you ever connect with people outside of your division? Outside of this organization? What community clubs or organizations have you joined outside of work? What connection have you made that proved to be the most powerful in your career?