Monday, May 20, 2013

When Elevator Speeches Fail: The Secrets of Effective Networking

Check out her session "The Secret to Confidence: Upgrade Your Success Story" on Friday Morning of the conference.

By Angela Guido, Founder, Communicate Yourself

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge proponent of preparation. Practice makes perfect they say, and there is certainly some validity to that adage. Practicing the things you might like to tell someone in an interview or at a networking event is useful because it gives you the chance to collect your thoughts, organize them in an orderly fashion, and recall the key vivid details of stories you might want to tell. In that regard, practicing an elevator speech or any other story about your life can be very valuable.

The problem though is that you can’t create the “perfect story” that will work every time. Perfection implies something is fixed and frozen. If your goal is to memorize something and use it over and over again, it may work from time to time, but more often than not your networking attempts will fall flat. I am sure we can all remember that time we sidled up to someone we really wanted to meet, launched into our planned talk, and midway through realized it just wasn’t connecting and our value wasn’t getting across. That’s because in a first conversation with someone – the kinds of dialogue you might have at a networking event or with a busy executive in an elevator– the goal is NOT to get your point across. The goal is to make a human connection.

The people you follow up with, the people you remember are the ones with whom you make a connection. This is true no matter where someone sits in the organizational hierarchy. If the CEO likes you when she meets you in that elevator, then the door may be open for a follow up conversation. If you fail to make a human connection, at best she won’t remember you; at worst, she might even avoid you. Elevator speeches often fail

So why does the elevator speech so often fail? Because it’s an attempt to transmit a fixed monologue instead of participating in what should be a spontaneous dialogue. You know what I am talking about – a conversation is a living thing, born in the present moment through collaborative interaction among the people having it. If it’s your goal to “get your message across,” it will go over like a lead balloon. Or worse, like freight train crashing through a lively party.

To succeed in these all-important first interactions, you need to be in the present moment. You can’t rely on a script from conversations past. Although I try to avoid tipsterism, this is a blog post, so I’ll leave you with some tips for being more present in the moment so that you can make deeper and more meaningful connections through your networking efforts:

Get happy. It’s very important to enter a conversation in a good mood. Most importantly, you need to make sure you are feeling confident in who you are.  If you had a bad day at work, if that negative performance review has just flitted across your mind, stop. Do not start a conversation now. Instead, remember some things that you are really proud of – your manager’s kind praises of your most recent career success, that tutoring student who turned her performance around because of you, the giant risk you took in planning a solo trip to a foreign country that turned out to be a magical journey. Do not try to approach others until you are feeling great about yourself first.

Let go of your agenda. There may be something you want from the person you are about to talk to. Putting your attention on that inherently makes you focus on the future and not in the present moment. That is a sure-fire way to fail to make a connection. So just let it go. If there is something you want – like an introduction or an opportunity to interview at the firm – just remind yourself that those details can work themselves out later. Your only job is to connect with the person in front of you. Save agenda items for follow up if that helps you stay focused here and now.

Think about a question you really want to know the answer to. Ironically it is easier to make a connection with someone else by listening than by talking. You will engender more affinity if you give the other person the chance to talk about something that really matters to them and then listen to what they say with sincere interest in understanding them and their perspective. Let the conversation follow naturally from there. That may sound like hollow advice, but if you think about it, you actually know you can do it. The ability to spontaneously interact with other human beings is a natural gift we all have. You don’t have to prepare for what you will say next, just trust yourself. Whatever you do, do not try to think of what you will say next while the other person is talking. That is not listening and people really know when you are not listening.

When in doubt, focus on what you love. It’s great to give other people space to talk about what matters to them. When the spotlight is on you, you will see why. Some subjects just light you up, and that is a wonderful feeling. If you remember to leave your agenda for later, then the subject of conversation doesn’t even matter – it doesn’t have to be professional or serious. It just has to be something that you come alive talking about – that you genuinely enjoy sharing. For me, it is often food or travel or the books I am reading. Talking with genuine passion and allowing your true self to shine through will always make a connection. So find those things that bring you to life and talk about them!

To learn more about the Secrets to Creating New Connections and Discovering the Power of Spontaneity, please join us at this year’s Forte MBA Women’s Conference for our Communicate Yourself Networking Workshop!

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