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Sunday, December 6, 2015

How to Kiss the Ring


Look at your current networking strategy - is referral-sharing one of the key objectives? If it is, then knowing when and how to "kiss the ring" is a critical skill that you need to master.

Once upon a time, failing to kiss a ruler's ring could put you in mortal danger. Today, skipping the kiss is less risky, but its certainly still part of the etiquette (and signal-sending) of high-level business development. Repeated mishandlings probably won't boost your opportunities for attracting new business, either.

Early on, my first few rounds of networking were baffling - how can you possibly know who you need to be talking to? With hundreds of people in the room it's not always immediately apparent.

But as I attended more and more networking events, I came to realize that greeting my Host should almost always be my first step. They're there to be a great resource for the room, and you're always in good form when you take that extra moment to say "thank you" to the person who's throwing the party.

Polished Pros walk into the room grateful for their Host's efforts and open to reciprocity.

So how does a savvy networker acknowledge their Host in a genuine way - without coming off as half-cocked, or worse, rushing and obsequious? 

Begin by remembering this - your Host supervised all the heavy-lifting that happened in order for this event to run smoothly. Entreprenerds, whether or not they're aware of it, tend to arrive with nervous energy that they keep inwardly-focused. That focus can blind them to all of the things that their Host has done on their behalf, which means that they probably aren't going to remember to greet and thank their Host. Polished Pros on the other hand accept their Host's hard work as a simple truth, and they walk into the room grateful for it and open to reciprocity. 

Showing up like a Polished Pro may take a little practice, but really, anyone can do it. When in comes to Kissing the Ring at a networking event, my action plan includes:
  1. Arrive a minute or two early.
  2. Identify the Host - ideally I do this before the event, but I also feel free to ask someone if I'm new to the room - an easy and effective gambit.
  3. With my Host ID'd, my next priority is shaking their hand - so I find the line and queue up.
  4. Wait your turn. Relax. Chat while you're waiting. Focus but don't rush.
  5. The Host will nearly always take a moment to acknowledge me - then I:
    • Smile and share my 'name rank and serial number' - keep it simple - and I don't market myself.
    • I thank the host, let them know I'm pleased to meet them, and that I appreciate their hard work and effort
    • Whether or not they do acknowledge you, close the moment with a smile, and resume networking (additional Pro tip: learn to find the Reciprocators)

Acting from gratitude also allows me to intuitively track the activity that's going on in the room, and it makes it easier for me to join in the action - and that visibility can be key to entering the virtuous circle of referral-sharing.

Putting useful forms like this one into practice - in a variety of settings - means that you'll be showing up to every event full of confidence. You'll be acting like a Polished Pro in no time - every time.

(Special thanks to Jeff Kleid for inspiring this post)

Your comments are always welcome.
See you there!
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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mastering the Business Card Handoff

A Smooth Hand-off
Lets face it: knowing how to share your business card isn't exactly life-or-death stuff. But in the moment, when we're face-to-face with a decision-maker or a gate-keeper and we want to foster the relationship, many of us feel anxious, then flub the hand-off itself. 

Like so much of networking, the business card hand-off is a set of techniques that you can - and you should - master. Lets get started.

That moment when two minds meet for the first time is ripe with opportunity, so treadling lightly is advised. Mastering the hand-off allows Pros to tread lightly, be themselves, and take care of business - all at the same time.

Great stories often have three acts, so I use a three-part structure to script this technique: Initiate, Qualify, and Hand-off. Memorize the Pro's lines, recognize those moments when your inner Entrepre-nerd pops out, and the rest will come with practice.

Concept Into Action
Imagine we overhear the moment that two strangers meet a networking event. One is a Polished Pro. The other is an Entrepre-nerd. Their chat might go something like this:

ACT 1 - Initiate (two people meet)

Pro: Hi, I’m Steve Jones (Steve could have also played a gambit here, but for now lets keep things simple)

E-nerd: Hi, I’m Mark.

Pro: Hi Mark, nice to meet you. What do you do? 

E-nerd: (Talks about himself without any particular focus)

Pro: (Listens. Asks a question or two. Stays present.) 

E-nerd: What you do…? (oops, Mark has already forgotten Steve's name)

Pro: Thank you for asking Mark. I... (gives her one-liner and pauses)

E-nerd: (typically has one of two reactions: flummoxed, shy, and unsure how to respond; or gushy, triggered, and oversharing)

Whenever someone you just met doesn’t follow up on your one-liner (ie, doesn't ask a qualifying question), you're free to politely excuse yourself and move on. But when your new Pal shows some interest in what you do, its time to give them a 10-second version of your elevator speech.

ACT 2 - Qualify (identify mutual opportunity)
When two Pros meet for the first time the conversation move forward much more quickly, and can go in several directions. Below are a few of the more common qualifiers:

Pro: (might ask any or all of these questions...)
  • "What brought you here tonight, Mark?" (a Pro notes: Is their motivation clear?)
  • "Tell me Mark, who is your Ideal Client?" (a Pro notes: Is their target market in-line with their marketing message?)
  • "Who are you interested in meeting tonight?" (a Pro notes: Does their answer correlate with what you already know about them?)
  • "Tell me about a recent client experience…" (a Pro notes: Is their offering reflected in the story they share?)
The Pro notes (above) reflect the fact that Polished Pros have also mastered listening while discerning, or bringing their intuition into play while also remaining present in the moment. Some people come by this this skill naturally (they have what is called High Emotional Intelligence). The rest of us need to practice those skills, but just know and trust that most of us can learn and master listening while discerning.

Moving on - when your new Pal shows an understanding of what you're up to (i.e., exhibits trust-based networking skills like reciprocation) the potential for mutual opportunity is clear and its time to shift to the hand-off.

ACT 3 – Business Card Hand-off (after some mutual opportunity is revealed)
More than anything else in the Hand-off, the next few steps (below) separate the Polished Pros from the Entrepre-nerds. Pros have a very specific series of steps they follow when they are accepting a business card. These next seven or eight actions shouldn't take more than 5 seconds.

Pro: (moves to complete the conversation) "Do you have a card?"

E-nerd or Pro #2: (pulls out a card and hands it off)

Pro: (accepts the card and follows the protocol below)
  • Accept their card with eye contact
  • Thank them, holding eye contact
  • Take the card with both hands
  • Look closely at it, pause
  • Look back into their eyes
  • Look back at their card, then put it away
  • Generally speaking you should wait to be asked before you hand them your card. If they don't ask, then you'll need to be the judge of whether or not to offer one. I generally opt not to. My thinking is this: if they don't understand the protocol here (i.e., know when or how to ask me for my card), then they're not likely to become an Ally, so there's no point in pushing a card at them. There are certainly exceptions to this.
E-nerd: (forgetting to ask for the Pro's card) "Well it was nice to meet you!"

When two Pros meet for the first time, they will trade cards by taking turns following the protocol above.

Also - after handing over their own cards, a Polished Pro will pause and wait for the other party to look up again. Entrepre-nerds will often chat nervously in this moment, oblivious that they're distracting the Pro from the task at hand - reading the E-nerd's own business card!

When a Pro is considering a deeper business relationship in this situation, they'll ask “Do you mind if I write on the back of your card?” and begin noting pertinent facts about their new Pal: marketing message, who this person wants to meet, personal affinities, their family and college and work history, and other reminders. These notes will go into their CRM later on. 

Do you have a 'sales buddy' that you can 
practice your Business Card Hand-off with?

Your comments are always welcome.
See you there!

How to Work a Room

Tonight's the Night
Imagine - a banker and an attorney who have never met before both decide to go to the same networking event. Neither has much enjoyed past networking experiences, but both both know that they need to really get out there and market themselves. When they signed up for the event a few weeks ago they'd had to psyche themselves up a bit. The talk in their head went something like, "...Its not that hard... You know what to do... Suit up, show up, speak up...". It's time to walk that talk.

Fortunately, their prep for tonight's event goes well. That is, until the attorney begins recalling in detail that time she got nervous and spilled a glass of red wine on that highly-regarded litigator. And the banker? He's feeling nervous too. He's even begun beating himself up about it in his head. His adrenalin goes up as he tells himself, "...Whatever.   They're just people... wait, will I need an elevator speech...? ...crap!".
They leave the office and wade thru rush-hour to find parking, but before getting out of their cars neither of them stops to take a few deep breaths. During registration the attorney chips a nail getting her wallet out of her purse, and the banker realizes he's forgotten to bring any of his business cards

Two Entrepre-nerds Collide
Our banker and attorney circle the room warily, growing dismayed as they aren't coming across anyone they already know. Just then they bump into each other. A handshake, smile, and nod and they get to it, taking turns fumbling their way through introductions.

After a few minutes they each proceed around the room, meeting new people with varying degrees of success. In between they recall the things they dislike about networking. If they hit a moment where it feels like they're not making any headway in the room, they start 'catastrophizing' the evening in their heads. 

Their hunched shoulders and slight frowns are signals to the savvier folks in the room to avoid them, if at all possible.

Needless to say, 
this is not how to work a room.

The polar opposite of those two is the Shifty-Eyed Sharpie. He hits the room hard, going from handshake to handshake, looking for connections with everyone who seems important. But he's so busy looking for the "right" person to meet that he isn't really connecting with anyone. He may be the guy you picture when you you hear the words "working a room" - a cartoon-ish businessman, eyes scanning the room, pumping everyone's hand and handing out business cards right and left.

Rest assured, this is also not the way to work a room. It can be entertaining (and annoying) for fellow networkers though! 

Style is Being Yourself
We've seen two styles of networking in action tonight, and here I am telling you that neither one is the best way to work a room (i.e., enjoy a productive networking event) - so what is the best way?

The best way to work a room is to simply present well (by showing up prepared), to be yourself, and to ask relevant questions of the people you find most interesting.

Imagine now that a Polished Pro had walked up to our banker and attorney. She smiles and joins the conversation, introducing herself, asking informed questions at the right moment.... what happens then? Does the energy-level in that group change? You bet it does! 

A Pro views networking as a simple set of techniques that can be mastered, so that they can form trust relationships with like-minded people. A Pro places high value on those relationships, and to that end they hone their technique to the point where its invisible - and highly effective.

In this third example, our Pro's networking style was unassuming and engaging. Her thoughtful questions made her irresistible to the banker and the attorney. She made a great impression with very little effort. And after she explained what she does for a living, both of them asked for her card. 

Concept Into Action
Practice makes perfect. Pick a networking skill (like the best way to hand-off your business card), and practice it until you're feeling comfortable with it. Then go out into the real world (it doesn't have to be a networking event) and flex that new skill of yours. Take your lumps, pay attention to the lessons you learn, tune-up your toolkit, and remember that everyone's goal here is progress - not perfection.

What are three things you can do to show up like
a Polished Pro at your next networking event?

Your comments are always welcome. 
See you there!