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A woman struggling with being interrupted at work? Handle it with these tips.

A woman struggling with being interrupted at work? Handle it with these tips.

If you find yourself being interrupted by your male counterparts at work here are a few active tips to help your voice be heard.

Last week’s NYT article about, “The universal phenomenon of men interrupting women” really hit home.  We hear from many of our female clients that they struggle to be heard over their male counterparts.  Seeing Senator Kamala Harris battle being interrupted by her colleagues while questioning Jeff Sessions proves no one is immune.  Much ink has been devoted to dissecting why this happens.  Some articles that are worth a read here, here, and here.  So it’s definitely a thing.  That happens a lot.  What can you do?

EMPLOY SHINE THEORY.

Having your idea shot down only to have a male colleague pass it off as their own later in the same meeting = FRUSTRATING.  Also sometimes referred to as “amplification”.  It involves women repeating each other’s ideas during a meeting to help ensure they are heard.  It also can aide in preventing other men from claiming the ideas as their own.  So ladies, circle up before that next staff meeting and strategize in advance!  (For more of a deep dive on Shine Theory take a listen to the interview Leah and I did with Mavenly’s Women, Work + Worth podcast.)

ESTABLISH YOUR BOUNDARY UPFRONT.

Before sharing your comment it can help to articulate your desire (and right) to finish your thought to the entire room.  This will help avoid creating an uncomfortable situation by singling out the culprit in front of everyone else.  This is especially helpful to have in your back pocket if you’re going into a meeting with someone who has interrupted you repeatedly in the past.  Preface offering your idea with a version of the following.  “I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular issue and I ask that you hear out my entire idea before responding.”

ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED.  

Chances are if you are constantly being interrupted you are not facilitating the meeting with the offender(s) in question.  Find a quiet moment to speak confidently with the person who is. Communicate your frustration and ask for their help diffusing any interruptions in the moment.  Sometimes we feel others should inherently understand what we need instead of explicitly asking for it. You may surprised to find your boss or team leader hadn’t even noticed the issue. Oh and people like being asked for their help.

AVOID UPSPEAK & DROPPING THE ENDS OF YOUR SENTENCES.

‘Upspeak’ refers to phrasing a declarative thought as a question.  You’re essentially going up in tone at the end of your sentence when sharing a definitive opinion or idea.  It’s a way we assert ourselves when we want to seem amenable and non-threatening. It’s also a surefire way to detract from your power.  Conversely, dropping your volume at the end of your sentence results in the same effect (and emanates from the same place of self-doubt). Own your voice!  Finish your thought with authority and conviction.

BREATHE.

Being thrown off mid-thought is a deeply nerve wracking experience.  If (or when) it happens take a moment to take a breathe, center yourself, and recalibrate your thoughts.  Dwelling on the fact you were just interrupted throughout the rest of the meeting is a waste of your focus and energy.  Let the moment pass (you’ll effectively deal with it later using the awesome tips you now know about above!) and soldier on. Don’t give your interrupter more power by letting them disrupt your thoughts as well.

Finally, suffering in silence helps no one-least of all you!  Share your challenges with us @bespokenNY.  Or drop us an a line and let us know about your experiences trying out any of the above tips.

Small Talk: Follow these tips to transform any interaction from dreaded to productive

Small Talk: Follow these tips to transform any interaction from dreaded to productive

We dread small talk but we don’t have to. Transform small talk into a welcome opportunity with these tips.

You dial into a conference call right on time. It’s just you and another person on the line, and you’re waiting for two more. Your anxiety rises, and you bring up the weather to fill the silence.  “Is it spring yet in Chicago? Here in New York…” it feels fake and forced. Despite your best intentions, you feel trapped by small talk. That’s no way to start any interaction!

Most people despise small talk but I think it gets a bad rap. We don’t want to feel inauthentic. We are not comfortable with silence. We feel pressure to make the interaction work, when in reality, that’s a two person job. How can we feel more in control of these interactions without avoiding them all together?

For introverts especially, it’s essential to transform small talk from a dreaded nuisance to an opportunity to begin a new relationship—even if it’s one that only lasts for 30 seconds.

Here are tips to avoid feeling inauthentic when faced with small talk:

Think Up Topics

Whether you’re heading into a networking event or a wedding, it’s likely you’ll be chatting with someone new. Think of a few relevant topics you can bring up if you feel cornered in an interaction. What new TV shows are you watching, or are you taking a trip sometime soon? People love to talk about themselves so ask questions and go beyond the weather.

“It’s Not You…”

We feel pressure to perform in small talk situations. Reframe the experience and make it all about the person you’re talking to. Focus on making them feel comfortable. Make eye contact and remember their name.  Remember that if you’re uncomfortable so are they. Practice getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable and less afraid of silence.

Make an Exit

The interaction will not last forever (promise!) and it’s okay for you to decide that it is over. Rather than making up an excuse to go to the other side of the room—and then avoiding that person until the end of the night—make a solid exit. “It’s been nice talking to you—I hope you enjoy the rest of the event” is acceptable and respectable when the time has come. It shows you value the interaction and the time spent together and gives you an out as well.

Sales Speak: How to use communication to close the deal

Sales Speak: How to use communication to close the deal

What is the cost of bad communication in sales? Follow these tips to use clear, concise communication when closing the deal. 

Whether you’re a rep on a sales team, a small business owner courting clients or an entrepreneur pitching your product, odds are you have something to sell.

Since the 1970s, most job growth has been in the service industry. Before that time, most jobs were in manufacturing. Communication and presentation skills are essential in these client-facing situations. And yet, so few people receive training to improve professional communication skills.

First, it’s important to understand how customers make buying decisions. Seventy-one percent of the population bases it’s buying decisions on believability and trust. Seventy percent of people make purchasing decisions to solve problems whereas thirty percent make decisions to gain something. If you’ve got something to sell, it should solve a problem, and you should be believable and trustworthy.

Ninety-eight percent of top salespeople identify relationships as the most important factor in generating new business. We’ve been working with sales teams all over the country and those who know sales agree: You cannot be a good sales rep without strong communication skills. Empathy, confidence, clarity, presence and preciseness are all necessary traits. So, how can you cultivate these qualities and translate them to the sales process?

Prepare and practice

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Map out the sales call in advance in the shape of an agenda—and frame the call for your customer at the top of the conversation. Knowing that you are going to tell them about your service, and then ask them about their needs, before talking prices and process helps you set expectations and helps your client feel in control. Expect, prepare for, and overcome objections—even putting a few minutes aside to think these objections through will set you up to succeed.

Ninety-three percent of communication is non-verbal (on the phone, tone is 86% of our communication). So, practicing your delivery is key. Have an audience-focus and think about how you want to make the customer feel (it will help take the focus off of yourself). And focus on selling yourself, not your product or service. You are the key differentiator from your competitors—knowing your competition and being able to articulate how you are different will help you stand out.

Listen actively 

When someone feels heard, it is indiscernible to feeling loved. This is a powerful tool, considering that most purchases are emotional ones. If you’re in person, make eye contact, ask thoughtful questions without interrupting, and be physically present. Follow this formula when talking to a potential client: 100% of all talking = 75% from the client + 25% the salesperson. 100% of all listening = 75% the salesperson + 25% the client.

Say what you mean 

Seventy-nine percent of communicators say they use too much jargon.  Record your pitch and pay attention to words that are industry-specific. Most likely, your client will not fully understand what it means, or it may even turn them off. Remove jargon from your language and practice saying the words you mean to say. Keep it “stupid-simple” and you’ll be helping your client feel like the product or service is crafted just for them.

Paint a mental picture

Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. When speaking to your client, paint a mental picture or tell a story—they’re more likely to feel connected to what you are saying. And follow up with visual marketing materials that back up the necessity of the product or service you are selling. It will help them remember you and your story longer.

Follow through

Gaining a new customer costs six times more than it does to keep an existing customer.  When you satisfy a disgruntled customer and resolve his or her issue, that customer will typically spend 10 times as much money on future purchases than he or she did on the initial purchase. Nurture your relationships. Spot problems early, and solve them. If your customers feel valued they will value you in return.

 

 

Could you repeat that? 3 steps to improve communicating with an accent.

Could you repeat that? 3 steps to improve communicating with an accent.

Are you a non-native English speaker navigating an English speaking workplace? Does your accent pose a communication challenge from time to time?

Are you asked to repeat yourself?  Or asked to repeat words containing a particular vowel sound that consistently trips you up?  Being unable to communicate effectively and efficiently can be a nerve-wracking experience.  

What’s more, the American Speech Language Association acknowledges that having difficulty communicating with those around you can lead to avoiding social interaction.  And frustration from having to repeat yourself all the time.  These feelings over time can negatively affect personal and professional relationships as well as job performance.  The tips below are geared to help you avoid shying away from words you’d really like to use (or perhaps must use) when communicating at work that are difficult for you to pronounce.

#1: Identify Potential Trouble-spots In Advance

Speaking in front of an audience, especially when you’re aiming to impress, can be a stressful experience. And this is true for English and non-English speakers alike.  Add in the extra challenge of navigating a workplace presentation in a language that’s not your own and that stress rises to a whole different level.  If you will be speaking from prepared notes the first thing you should do is prepare your talking points using words that best describe what you’re trying to convey.  Don’t compromise the content of your presentation by purposely avoiding words that you don’t like pronouncing – yet.  Once you’ve finalized your content print it out.  Recite your presentation out loud a few times and when you reach a word that you have difficulty with highlight it.  Then, create a separate list containing only the highlighted words you’ve identified that give you trouble.  Print this out too.  Now you’re ready to tackle what’s tripping you up and regain your control.

#2: Break It Down

Now you have your list of words that give you trouble.  Say each word out loud no less than 10 times.  I know this sounds excessive but it’s important.  It will help make the feeling of the word in your mouth more familiar.  It will also increase your ear’s familiarity with the sound of your voice pronouncing it.  Increasing comfort in both of these regards is important .  The last thing you want to be focused on in the middle of your presentation is a word you don’t like pronouncing coming up two sentences away.  You want to be connecting with your audience and communicating with confidence!  

Repeating the word this many times outloud will also provide you the chance to play with speed. Practice saying the word slowly, then fast.  Then purposely over-pronounce and exaggerate each of the vowel and consonant sounds.  If you gain understanding of why it’s difficult for you to pronounce the word you regain some power and control-power you may feel you lack after previous verbal exchanges using this word that were frustrating.

#3:  Get out that smartphone.

Nowadays every smartphone contains a voice memo app. Record yourself reciting the full sentence in which the word appears.  Do the words that occur directly before and/or after the troublesome word influence your pronunciation of it?  Note this if so, and make any necessary adjustments.  Once you’ve done this for each sentence where a highlighted word exists, record yourself giving your entire presentation.  When you listen back to the recording pay close attention.  Are there any moments where you hear hesitation?  Or where you recall losing your sense of control?  Continue practicing until you no longer experience discomfort or lack of assuredness when you reach these moments in your presentation.

Finally, enlist someone you trust – a friend or a colleague – and practice your presentation in front of them.  It’s important that you bridge the gap between practicing alone with your voice recorder to sharing your thoughts with a live audience.  You may notice that the progress you made alludes you at first.  Nerves have a way of doing that.  Be patient and kind with yourself.  Just take a deep breath and try again.  If you are willing to invest the time you will find that over time words that seemed impossible for you to pronounce will have worked their way into your everyday vocabulary and you’ll be using them without a second thought.

Leadership + Communication: 3 steps to becoming a better leader

Leadership + Communication: 3 steps to becoming a better leader

Is it possible to be a good leader without being a good communicator? Here, we explore the connection between leadership and communication. 

At Bespoken, we are passionate about helping leaders improve professional communication skills. Over the past month, we’ve worked with leaders at AIGLinkedIn and AOL, and in the fields of tech, healthcare and finance. We frequently help leaders at Columbia Business School find their voice and own it. Across the board, it’s impossible to separate good leadership from effective communication skills. Yet, leaders often lack solid communication skills. For others, it can be the one trait preventing them from rising to a leadership role.

Research backs up the connection between leadership and communication. Businesses lose $37 billion per year because of employee misunderstanding. According to another study, the cumulative cost of communication barriers is $26,041 per employee. On the flip side, companies with leaders who are highly effective communicators report 47% higher total returns. And Best Buy found that for every percentage point it boosted employee engagement, individual stores reported a $100,000 annual increase in operating income.

In 2015, we contributed an article to Inc.com about leadership and presentation skills. Of course, how you present yourself as a leader is vital, but we believe that the ability to communicate effectively leads to true organizational growth and change.

Want to be a better leader? Communicate more effectively. Improving communication and presentation skills means changing lifelong behaviors. These changes don’t come overnight, but you will see an instant boost in communication skills by implementing these three tools:

Be Receptive 

Do you know that we spend 70-80% of our waking hours communicating?  We spend 45% of that time listening and yet, the average listener only remembers 25% of what is said. Bad listening leads to mistakes and employee dissatisfaction. Practice active listening: Pay attention, look at the person, ask questions and visualize what they are saying. Not only will you be able to act on the information more efficiently, but when someone feels heard they become more emotionally invested and are more likely to do good work.

Be Present

When someone needs your attention, give it to them. Even if your mind is racing with to-do’s, make yourself physically available by uncrossing your arms, standing (or sitting) up straight, and making eye contact. Bringing your whole self to a conversation will help you more clearly address the issue at hand and prevent other problems from arising.

Be Precise 

Being deliberate and clear in your communication is key. Before a huddle or difficult conversation, really think about what you want to say. Articulate your goal for the conversation in one sentence, then jot down notes and practice it once or twice to be sure the words you choose accurately reflect your goals for the conversation. Remove any grey areas by recording yourself to make sure your words cannot be misinterpreted or taken the wrong way. Adding a minute or two on the front end can save hours of backpedaling on the back end.

Most valuable thing Warren Buffett owns?  A degree in public speaking.

Most valuable thing Warren Buffett owns? A degree in public speaking.

What’s the only diploma the 3rd richest person in the world has hanging in his office?  

It’s from Dale Carnegie’s public speaking course issued to one Mr. Warren Buffett in 1951.  Buffett credits it as “the most important degree I have.”  Even at the young age of 20, Buffett was smart enough to understand that it didn’t matter how much of a financial genius he was.  He knew if he didn’t invest in his public speaking skills he wouldn’t be able to share his expertise with others.  And that would mean not achieving the success he envisioned for himself.  What kind of success do you envision for yourself?What role does communication and public speaking play on your path to achieving it?  

So Why Don’t We Invest In Ourselves More?

Why do many of us shy away from investing in our communication skills in a significant way?  I think it’s common for people to think those who excel at speaking in public are just naturally natural. Or that performers are good liars.  Or that some people are just born hardwired with the ability to speak in front of others.  In my opinion, none of these are true.  Communication is a muscle.  And just like any muscle it takes time to build and strengthen.  More than likely the underlying cause why people avoid practicing their public speaking skills is fear of discomfort and the unfamiliar.  So much so that sometimes it takes a goal like wanting to be a millionaire by the age of 35 to push us past whatever’s holding us back and sign up for the public speaking course.

An Investment in your public speaking skills is an investment in yourself.

At Bespoken we believe that developing effective communication skills is something that positively influences all aspects of a person’s life.  The ability to communicate confidently will support you from informal conversations with colleagues all the way to full-scale public presentations.

One way to warm up to the idea of formally practicing your communication skills is by making a list of all the possible opportunities you have to communicate publicly.  It may surprise you how many options there are.  Sharing an idea during a staff meeting.  When you’re having your weekly check-in with your boss.  Taking a potential client out for lunch.  Then, of course, there are the more formal opportunities – presenting or speaking in front of a live audience.  Think about what it would be like if each one of these encounters was rewarding and successful.  It would be pretty great, wouldn’t it?

If you’re reading this article chances are you’re contemplating working with a communication coach or want to improve your communication skills.  Take a moment and be honest with yourself.  If you haven’t taken the plunge already, why is that?  What exactly are you afraid of?   “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”–Aude Lorde.

Conquering Your Fear of Client Cultivation

Conquering Your Fear of Client Cultivation

The biggest fear for female entrepreneurs? Attracting new clients.

As someone who started my own business relatively recently this September, 2016 study by Hiscox (a leader in specialized business insurance) resonated with me.  DNA of an Entrepreneur surveyed 1,000 U.S. business owners and found the biggest fear of female small business owners surveyed is not being able to attract new clients (24%).  I imagine any number of thoughts such as these pass through the mind of all entrepreneurs: Will potential clients find value in my idea? Will they trust in my ability to deliver as promised?  Will I deliver my pitch convincingly?  If we pull back the layers of this fear I think we’ll find at its root a crisis of confidence.  Which can be conquered by taking command of your communication skills. Start by asking yourself, “What’s my communication style?”

Know Your Communication Style

Peter A. Garber of HRD Press created a communication questionnaire we like to use with our clients.  It starts by asking you to pick the communication style that best describes you: Outspoken/Direct | Quiet/Reserved | Thoughtful/Analytical | Friendly/Unassuming.  I appreciate these are broad categories.  You can certainly be quiet and also thoughtful.  But in my experience most people identify strongly with one category more than the rest.  It then goes on to ask, “In what ways is your communication style misunderstood by others?”  I find this question particularly important because it acknowledges that we’ve all been misunderstood at one time or another. And it encourages an ability I believe we each have to take a step back from these situations and identify what went wrong.  Honoring that you have your own unique communication style is the first step to understanding how to shape your communication skills in business to your advantage.

Can nerves be a good thing?

I imagine another facet of this fear of not being able to attract new clients is, “Will I make a good impression?”  The factors that inform the impression someone has of you are multifaceted to be sure.  Through our work we’ve found that two of the biggest are our physical choices and vocal tone.  When pitching a new client, nerves are sure to be running high.  This is precisely when unconscious physical habits such as, playing with the pen on the desk or fixing our hair unnecessarily kick in.  It’s our subconscious way of diffusing nerves.  Think of them as unconscious self-preservation tactics.  I find this comforting, actually.  It’s easy to look at nervous ticks as things that make you a ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ at business communication skills.  But at their root their just your system’s (misdirected) way of helping you succeed in that moment.

Take a deep breath.

Nerves also affect breath.  Have you ever experienced a time when you were nervous speaking to someone and ‘lost your air’? I have.  Counteracting this is where technique comes in.  One way we like to practice is by placing one hand on your upper chest and one on your abdomen just above your bellybutton.  Take an inhale isolating your breath into your top hand.  Then do the same with the bottom hand. Notice which sensation feels familiar and which awkward.  Over time the goal is to breath into your bottom hand – your diaphragm.  Breathing into the top half of your chest put unnecessary strain on your vocal chords and creates a roadblock of sorts for your voice.  Breathing into your diaphragm creates a supported foundation to communicate from. Check out our xxx video for step-by-step instructions.

Recruiting new clients may never be a breeze but understanding your communication style and how to shape it will lead to higher rates of success when communicating in high-stress environments and change feelings feelings of fear to excitement and anticipation.

Managing Up: How to Talk to Your Boss

Managing Up: How to Talk to Your Boss

What is Managing Up and how can it boost your professional communication skills?

Working for someone who doesn’t communicate effectively can be tricky.  Maybe your boss is passive-aggressive.  Or she gives you feedback at 10pm the night before your presentation that you asked her to look at weeks ago.  Since it’s in your best interest to forge a healthy relationship with your boss, what to do?  Enter the concept of ‘Managing Up’.   There are a lot of great articles out there on strategy for Managing Up effectively.  Two faves: What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up by the Harvard Business Review and Mashable’s Managing Up 101: How and When to Take Initiative at Work.  For our purposes, let’s assume you’ve identified the issue, have a strategy for how you’re going to address it, but find yourself at a loss for how to navigate the actual exchange. That’s where Bespoken comes in!

Circumstances Matter.

Throughout our work we underscore the belief that we each have our own unique communication style.  And that it’s important to understand our communication style so we can leverage it to our advantage in different professional and personal settings.  The same holds true for your boss.  Turn the tables and spend some time observing her communication style.  Is she more comfortable in formal settings or informal?  Does she prefer in-person meetings over conference calls?  Is she a good listener or does she have trouble holding focus during conversation?  Once you’ve identified the characteristics of her communication style you can begin to formulate your approach.

Let’s say you want to suggest a monthly interdepartmental meeting to discuss new business because you’ve seen a few potential clients slip through the cracks recently. But you anticipate your boss will bristle at yet another standing obligation on her calendar.  Think back to when she’s at her most receptive.  In casual conversation when packing up at the end of the day?  Over breakfast before the obligations of the workday begin?  Speaking to her in the right circumstance is almost as important as the conversation itself.

Now It’s Time to Manage Up

Whitney Johnson’s advice in Managing Up Without Sucking Up is spot-on when she says, “Understand what job your boss was hired to do.”  Follow a two-step approach: make your boss feel you understand her perspective and then speak your idea without apology: “I know your goal is to increase our bottom line in the 3rd quarter which means bringing in 10 new clients by June.  I believe we can handily achieve this goal if we devote more time to speaking about new leads as an entire department. Wednesdays seem to be your lightest day.  Would you be open to meeting for 30 minutes the first Wednesday of the month as a department to speak about new business?”

Understanding how to manage up is a strategic business communication tool to master.  It can really work to your advantage when you find yourself in a challenging workplace dynamic. Have you managed up successfully or experienced a situation when it was called for?  We’d love to hear about it at: @bespokenNY.

Asking For a Raise? Read This First.

Asking For a Raise? Read This First.

Asking for a raise is awkward.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Time to negotiate your salary? Performance review on the horizon and feel you deserve a raise? Being an advocate for yourself and asking for more money can be a nerve-wracking experience. A recent article in The Atlantic cites a study conducted by PayScale which surveyed 30,000 workers about their experience asking for a raise: “Forty-three percent had asked for [a raise], but only 44 percent of those who asked got the amount they wanted, with 25 percent not getting a raise at all.” Even though asking for a raise is uncomfortable and intimidating it’s an important and necessary business communication skill to cultivate.

So how prepare and ask for that raise?

Take a thoughtful look back at the goals you achieved over the previous year. It’s easier to identify external accomplishments such as the number of projects you completed successfully or the amount of money you earned for the company. But internal accomplishments are equally important and sometimes more compelling. What do I mean by internal accomplishments? These are professional accomplishments that may not be overtly obvious to those around you at work. When articulated effectively they can paint a compelling narrative about your job performance and help you successfully advocate for yourself. For example, say you mastered a new skill and you are accomplishing the same amount of work in half the time. Yet your boss, consumed by other responsibilities, hasn’t noticed or acknowledged your increased productivity. Your performance review is the perfect time to compellingly communicate this new accomplishment!

Once you have your list of accomplishments pick one and breakdown the steps you took to achieve it – build the story of your accomplishment.  How did you identify the skill you lacked? What did you do to learn this new skill? How are you currently putting the skill into practice? What positive impact is this new skill having on your work? Craft a succinct narrative of the journey you took learning this new skill. Then illustrate why it is increasing your value as an employee. Be sure to use tangible outcomes: “Since mastering the new software the project that used to take me 4 hours to complete I now finish in 90-minutes.”

Hone Your Story.

Once you’ve got a story you feel good about it’s time to practice it aloud. Enlist a friend or your bathroom mirror.   This step is key. It’s easy to silently practice what you plan to say while you’re in the shower. Simulating ahead of time what it will be like sitting across from your boss with your adrenaline pumping is integral to your success.

The final step is polishing your delivery. Maintain eye contact, focus your energy on a part of your body to calm nerves (I like using my feet), dial down verbal and physical ticks that will undermine you and your story. Do this with every accomplishment you want to share.

Finally, it’s time to leverage the sense of pride that illustrating your accomplishments has conjured: “Given my significant recent accomplishments I feel I deserve a ten percent salary increase.” You may feel uncomfortable at first but the more you practice this crucial business communication skill the better you will be come at confidently and unapologetically requesting the raise you deserve!

Put Yourself Out There: Networking With Ease

Put Yourself Out There: Networking With Ease

Your expertise and enthusiasm make you uniquely qualified to speak about your work so why is networking so hard?

We’re gearing up for “Put Yourself Out There,” a professional development training with NYU alumni at the NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development on Nov. 15 (NYU alumns join us! http://bit.ly/2fslwd4) which has us thinking again about networking and how we can all stand to improve our business communication skills to achieve effective communication in a short amount of time.

For some, walking into a room full of strangers can be an uncomfortable experience in its own right and then add having to initiate conversation to the mix, well, then it becomes downright intimidating! For others, chatting up strangers may be the easy part but it’s challenging to talk about themselves and their work in a concise and compelling way.  The good news is that networking, just like public speaking, is a muscle and the more you practice it the stronger you’ll become.

Set An Intention

Before networking, or any situation where you have to speak in public, the best thing you can do first is set an intention.  Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of this experience? Practice an elevator pitch?  Identify possible business partners?  Land a new client?” Being clear about what you want from your audience in advance will help position you to network in a more focused and efficient way.

Another thing that’s helpful to think about is a network as a shared connection (Can you hear me now?) which makes the experience more about a give-and-take and less about trying to impress the other person which can lead to an anxious or one-sided exchange (which is isn’t fun for anyone involved).

Engage in Active Listening

If you think of networking as a shared connection and exchange of energy between people you’ll find it promotes active listening.  When we actively listen to another person we are listening in order to learn instead of politely waiting for our turn to speak again.  Actively listening while networking may help you identify a potential [business opportunity, job lead, client prospect – you get the idea] that you could have missed otherwise.  Networking in order to experience a shared connection with another person will also encourage sharing information about yourself in a way that steadily moves you toward achieving your previously set intention.

Try It Out

As you try out these tips you’ll find they’ll work in any networking situation from an after-work happy hour to an industry-wide convention.  So, the next time you find yourself asking (or being asked) “So, what do you do?” you’ll be networking like a pro.