Diane Darling teaches the ABCs of meeting people in ‘The Networking Survival Guide’
By David Hugh Smith
This is the third in a four-part series about Diane Darling. Diane is the founder and president of Effective Networking, Inc., a Boston-based company. In previous articles we looked at why networking is so important to careers and how to network during group professional events.
Networking, as we learn from Diane Darling’s excellent book The Networking Survival Guide, is the science of effective human interaction. Diane points out in “Survival Guide” that: “At the heart and soul of any networking interaction is a conversation.”
My own conversations with a particular 16-year-old boy I’ve known since the moment he was born involve my asking him questions and having his full answers provided in one-syllable words. “How was school today?” “Fine.”
By contrast, Diane points out that “When people share stories, interests, and ideas they build rapport. When a connection is established, people want to continue to listen. In business, it is essential to get someone’s attention first in order to continue and potentially do business together.”
But “Survival Guide” is much more than just a how-to book for making worthwhile connections. Its subtitle is “Practical Advice to Help You Gain Confidence, Approach People, and Get the Success You Want.” It’s really a makeover manual, instructing readers how to build relationships. It includes not just advice but exercises aimed at making good networking a natural part of one’s routine.
In the final two parts of this series on networking doyenne Diane Darling, I will share major ideas I’ve gleaned from “Survival Guide” and from “Networking for Career Success: 24 Lessons for Getting to Know the Right People.” “Career Success” Diane wrote to be “The Employee Handbook for Enhancing Corporate Performance.” (“Career Success” will be discussed only in the final article.)
In “Survival Guide,” Diana recommends using “A variety of channels tailored to the individual you want to connect with and/or the goal you want to achieve.” For more details, you may want to read her books or go to one of her seminars. A number of her recommendations can be found by googling her online.
At her seminars and in her books she focuses not just on practical networking skills but she provides deeper thoughts about how and why we should connect with other people.
How to start
An early chapter in “Survival Guide” is titled “Getting Started.” She strongly recommends professionals start networking now, even if there doesn’t seem the need to add people to your LinkedIn contacts or your Rolodex. Why? Because if at some point you need help — help, for example, connecting with someone at an organization who might need your skills — it’s better to have a network already in place than have to hastily build one.
Another point she makes — a moral lesson she presents in a number of ways — is not to network selfishly. “In order to receive, you must give,” Diane says. You need, for example, to enthusiastically and thoughtfully help others make key connections
One way to start making new contacts is to“[g]o online and find communities or groups that share your interests.” One in particular she recommends is Meetup.com, a site that serves as a clearing house for a variety of clubs.
Diane also discusses the networking gorillas in this chapter — LinkedIn and Facebook — which are services that can “turbocharge your networking efforts.” But she suggests emphasizing quality over quantity, and embracing new people into your network who share your values.
“Preparing to network”
“Survival Guide” is about being the complete package — about all the ways you can be the way you need to be to create or strengthen your network. In this chapter she gets to the heart of the matter, including how you look. She strongly recommends that we “invest in being our best, on the outside as well as on the inside.”
She says, “little things do matter. This includes appropriate attire, a proper handshake, good manners, and saying thank you.” And if you need to, hire someone who will help advise you with these. She also comments: “You do not want to be remembered for your bad breath.” Or bad teeth. Diane recommends going to a dentist.
Other issues count — and count a lot. For all aspects of how you interact with people you want to create a good impression. You need to act the part of a thoughtful, professional person worthy of being a key contact.
Among the many other factors: business writing. “Whether you are composing an e-mail or an annual report, business writing is an essential skill for the professional. Take a class that specifically teaches it . . .” (See the article in this issue of the Post: “Guidance for when your boss asks you to write.”)
Business cards, notepad and pens, briefcases, mobile devices are more than just stuff you need to have to be a professional. They are “Networking Accessories” — the title of one of Diane’s chapters. She spends the most time on business cards, the “number one networking must-have.” You need to know how to most effectively “play” your cards.
First off, always carry business cards for when you meet people — sometimes unexpectedly — with whom you want to make a connection. Cards should be “clear and crisp” — and include your phone number and email address.
Diane recommends creating a system that works for you for the cards you gather from other people. You want to manage these cards — organize them so that if need to find contact details for a particular senior manager you aren’t wading through a messy pile that seems to have everyone’s card except the one you need. Ideas: screen and sort the cards you have collected. Create a database. At networking events, Diane recommends developing a system for giving and receiving cards that involves separate cases — so you aren’t giving someone else’s card to a new contact.
Meanwhile, professionals also should be prepared to jot down important information by bringing with them a pen and, ideally, a pad to write on. It also makes a considerably better impression when someone is sharing detailed information for you to be writing it down.
Your briefcase should “complement your look.” And it should be functional — easy to open, with useful pockets. And as for your cell phone, don’t be answering it when you want to demonstrate to people you are talking to that they are of foremost importance. Also, know how to use manage your phone. And use proper phone etiquette, including not getting absorbed in a conversation others can hear and from which they might get a bad impression.
David Hugh Smith is president of Right Writers, a Brookline, Mass., communications company. He’s also editor of PDC publications. His email address is email@example.com.