The knowledge, skills, and contacts that enable you to make career transitions are found in your network. The more diversified your network is, the better.
Sally Hindmarch, founder of U.K.-based training provider Partners With You, shared five steps anyone can take to excel at networking. The techniques can help you look, sound, and feel more confident.
Adopt a confident posture
The way you stand can invite others to strike up a conversation or put them off. Slouching, for instance, gives the impression that you are apologizing for your presence. Instead, stand with your feet, shoulders, and hips in alignment so your weight is evenly distributed. Imagine that there is an invisible thread running up through your body that comes out of the top of your head. If someone pulled that string taut, you would stand a couple of inches taller. Then, imagine you are wearing a matador's jacket and someone has pulled the back of it downward, pulling your shoulders back and opening your chest. This stance looks open and receptive, and helps you feel more comfortable, making it more likely that other attendees will be receptive and open with you. For your spoken message to be perceived as sincere, it has to be matched by the physical image you convey through your stance and eye contact.
Ask open questions
Where did you travel from? What do you do? Who accompanied you here? What did you think of the speaker? Asking questions helps you shine the spotlight on other people so that they feel important. Practice asking open questions beginning with what, where, who, when, why, and how. Prepare your own answers so you can contribute to the flow of the conversation, Hindmarch said. Likewise, avoid giving a one-word answer. If someone asks where you're from, for example, tell him or her an anecdote or a piece of trivia about your town, which gives the other person something to talk about.
Wear something distinctive
Wear a distinctive tie, a piece of jewelry, or a badge of a charity you support. It can be anything that will draw the eye, prompt someone to remark on it, and get a conversation started. The important thing is to have a story about it (who gave it to you, why you bought it, why you support that cause) that can reveal something about you and your interests and help develop a rapport.
Know when and how to extract yourself from a conversation
If your goal in attending the event is to meet lots of new people, it's important to know how to move on politely. If the person is giving useful advice, you might want to make an appointment to explore the subject in more depth. Once you have exchanged contact information, it is much easier to say, "Thank you for this. I'll be in touch. I'm going to move on now." If you are simply looking to make a polite exit, try: "I have enjoyed our conversation, but I promised to meet someone. Would you excuse me?" Alternatively, remind the other person that you both went to the event to mingle, saying, "I'm sure you want to meet as many people as possible, too."
The first meeting is just the start of a relationship. If you took someone's card, send him or her a note to say, "Hope our paths cross again." If you said you would call someone or promised to send a report, article, or recommendation, make sure you do it. If you don't deliver what you promised, your contact may infer things about you and your ability to deliver in your profession, Hindmarch said. Following up provides an opportunity to build trust and rapport. Ask yourself, "Is there something I can do to help this person?" such as send him or her your company's white paper about a topic the person is working on. Consummate networkers give the first referral and always thank others when they provide one.
The original version of this article, "5 Ways to Excel at Networking," by Samantha White is available at cgma.org.
CGMA Magazine is published in conjunction with the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation, which was created through a partnership between the AICPA and CIMA. The magazine offers news and feature articles focused on elevating and emphasizing management accounting issues.