Every one of us has the potential to be a great speaker. Once you know the strategies, all you need is practice and to believe in your abilities. Let’s jump right into 7 strategies that will transform your presentations.
1. Engaging From the Start
Imagine sitting down to watch a movie, TV show or live theater performance and there’s no “hook”…nothing to grab your attention or entice you to keep watching. This happens in presentations a lot. You need to start with a great opener if you want people to be engaged and then remain to hear your message. For some cool ideas for starting your presentation with a “bang”, check out this video.
2. Handling Nerves
Imagine listening to a presenter you can’t connect with. There’s something about her that’s just not “right”. You saw her talking with someone else when you entered the room and she seemed very personable but when she started to present to the larger crowd she just wasn’t the same. This happens frequently, especially when a presenter is nervous or unsure. Check out this video to get some ideas about how to deal with pesky nerves.
3. Verbal Fillers
Do you know how often you say “um” or “uh”? Or maybe you’ve experienced someone who does and you understand how annoying it can be to listen to? Many times with prolific “um-ers”, the audience will focus on the pattern and start counting how many times the speaker says “um” or “you-know” or any number of other verbal filler words and phrases. If the audience is counting the verbal fillers, they are not listening to the speaker’s message. Humans are wired to identify and focus on discernible patterns like frequently used words, verbal fillers, and quirky behaviors and gestures.
4. Effective Q&A
The question and answer section of a presentation logically comes at the end of the presentation. That’s a great strategy EXCEPT when the Q&A session is the very LAST thing that happens in the presentation. A better strategy is to save the last minute or two after the Q&A session for you to have the final word, to remind the audience of your main points, and to re-direct any controversial issues that emerged during the Q&A.
5. Be an Educator, Not Simply a Lecturer
If you really want your audience to “learn” from your presentation then treat them like learners and help them to embrace the concepts you share. Think back to that high school or college “lecture” class…the Psych 100 or History 100 class that was filled with 500-1,000 people in a massive lecture hall. The graduate teaching assistant (GTA) would enter the room, proceed to the lectern, turn on the video equipment and run through the 1.5 hours of slides filled with data that would be on the test on Friday. Everyone in the audience would feverishly take notes and 30 minutes after class would remember nothing about the past 1.5 hours of the GTA’s “data dump” except that their hands hurt from writing or that Alexa Jones was fun to mess around with. This was a “lecture” class and sadly, not much “education” or learning happened.
Now think about that comparative literature or fundamentals of marketing class in which the instructor challenged you to think and embrace his/her teachings during every class. You left class mentally “full” and could use the things you learned in everyday conversations. This teacher taught concepts that you probably still remember today. This was an “education.” Strive to be an “educator” and not simply a “lecturer”. Your audiences will appreciate it more than you know!
6. Be Authentic
If you want your audience to believe you then it’s important that you are natural and believable in your delivery. Audiences are smart; they generally know when a presenter is being “real” or “faking it.” They will embrace an authentic performance far more easily than one they perceive to be inauthentic. Powerful speakers and presenters are those to whom people can easily relate as fellow human beings because they are speaking and presenting from an authentic place.
With the advent of social media we can easily see others’ lives just as easily as they can see ours. We find comfort in knowing that others have similar struggles and victories to those that we experience. We want to know that we are not alone in our humanity. The best way to demonstrate our authenticity is by being willing to share stories and experiences with our audiences, by not trying to be someone else, but, rather feeling safe and confident enough to be seen as who we really are. This concept is apparent in video blogs, live webinars and on-line learning tools in which the speakers and presenters are not “perfect.” They allow themselves to be seen as “real and imperfect” presenters and speakers. Being authentic, believable and relatable to your audience is a powerful tool that creates a lasting bond of credibility with your audience.
7. Weak Standing Positions
As a speaker/presenter you want to let your audience know that you are confident about your message. While your verbal message may be well crafted and delivered with vocal confidence, your body position can contradict even the strongest vocal performance. Standing with your feet under your shoulders and your head aligned on top of your shoulders is a powerful and confident position. Yet, many presenters cross their legs while standing, bend side to side, cross their arms over their chest, or lean forward at the waist. These are weak positions and can leave your audience to believe that you lack confidence.
As a child, Gary Plaag wasn’t comfortable talking in front of a class. When he first began performing in barbershop harmony and dance groups as a young adult, he still had to force himself to speak to audiences onstage.
By the time Gary was speaking at Information Technology conferences during his first professional career, he was confident enough that fellow attendees would ask for advice with their presentations. That’s when a light bulb went off. He liked helping other people communicate more than he liked being the center of attention.
“I can do a [speaking] gig myself really well,” he says. “What drives me, though, is guiding others to discover how to tell their stories and be successful. Seeing people overcome their anxieties, get out of their own way and find their voice is much more joyful for me.”
Now 59, Gary is President of Couragio Consulting, a global firm he founded in 1998. Through Couragio, he offers communication, presentation and public speaking coaching for individuals, trade groups and businesses of all sizes across the country and world. Services include businesses presentation and interpersonal communication skills, interview preparation and life coaching.
Gary’s methods often surprise and challenge his clients. He sometimes asks corporate employees to read Dr. Seuss books aloud, for example, to fight their fear of looking silly in public. He regularly makes video recordings of his clients speaking, watches the tapes with them and prods them to notice and talk about their good qualities.
“People tend to focus only on what they don’t like about themselves,” he notes. “Many people think they have nothing of value to offer. Their filter is often skewed. They need to see themselves the way others see them. I want them to celebrate what they are good at, and then we can work on things that could be better.”
With greater confidence and a message and/or presentation aids designed to “hook” an audience, clients can turn their nerves into excitement about sharing their thoughts and ideas, Gary says. When he hears a client has nailed a presentation, run a successful seminar or captivated an audience onstage, he feels deep personal pride. Sometimes, he gets to be there in person. “I’ve been thanked in front of literally thousands of people,” he notes. “That is pretty amazing and humbling.”
One of Gary’s inspirations is also surprising at first glance: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Both of his parents attended meetings when he was a boy growing up in Northern Virginia, he shares. From their journey to sobriety, he discovered that people won’t change their behavior until it hurts them badly enough, but that everyone is always responsible for his or her own actions. Speaking honestly, owning mistakes and listening to others were other keys to recovery.
“AA is a very supportive environment, but it also just doesn’t do excuses,” he relates. “I hear excuses all the time in my work, why people can’t do something.” He doesn’t take every client, in fact. “There’s a difference in wanting to get better and being willing to get better. When you are willing, you are willing to be uncomfortable, maybe very uncomfortable, to get where you need to be.”
Gary credits his mother, now deceased, for passing on both the drive to help others and the courage to tackle new skills. She taught him ballroom dancing when he was 6 and later signed him up for tap and music lessons. His dad, still alive and now sober for 48 years, drilled him on the need to consider and accept the consequences of every decision. The director of his high school band, where Gary played clarinet and alto saxophone, modeled the value of discipline in achieving goals.
At William & Mary, Gary kept pushing his boundaries as he earned a degree in government. “I joined the whitewater rafting canoeing team,” he recalls. “How crazy is that?” As a junior and senior, he auditioned for shows as a musician and chorus member. After college, he joined Barbershop Harmony, Scottish Country Dancing and Bavarian Folk Dance groups, some of which performed internationally in front of thousands.
Yet Gary’s career as an Information Technology (IT) Analyst and Manager wasn’t as fulfilling. By 1997, he was suffering in an IT support job in Northern Virginia. “The normal burnout timeframe was six to 10 months, and I had been there for 11 years,” he says. By then, he had been on the IT speaking circuit for about seven years.
“The combination of my unpleasant job situation meeting with an exciting teaching opportunity pushed me to leave the IT career and start Couragio Consulting,” says Gary, who also holds a Master’s [Degree] in Communication from George Mason University. In 2014, he moved to Williamsburg to escape the bustle and traffic of Northern Virginia.
Gary works with all types of employees and businesses, in person and via video conferencing. Last spring, he traveled to Sweden for a workshop with a road construction company, where one challenge was to guide a few employees to be more comfortable communicating in English.
“After reading a children’s story aloud in Swedish, they realized they could make some mistakes and that was OK,” he says. “What I do is make it safe for people to be vulnerable.”
Some clients, including top executives, balk at that approach. “It took one guy a half hour to agree to read a Dr. Seuss story aloud,” Gary says. “He was scared, even though it was just me and him in the room. It wasn’t part of his paradigm on what ‘professional’ people should do, but once you are able to lean into the discomfort and get past those arbitrary ‘rules’, you realize it’s actually kind of fun. You can be playful, and then getting up in front of people probably isn’t as scary.”
One of Gary’s clients gained the bravery and talents to go after, and land, a coveted job as a school administrator. That same client even took advantage of Gary’s tips on music performance and went on to win an international barbershop quartet singing competition.
“It’s not so much telling people what to do, but leading them in guided self-discovery,” Gary explains, again drawing from Alcoholics Anonymous. “You lead them to discover things for themselves, so they will take real ownership.”
Startups and small businesses often need training beyond the specific technical ability or product that sets them apart. “They don’t realize that they also need additional skills or need to hire people who have those needed skills. So they quickly become overwhelmed with trying to do all the other aspects of running a business and the business fails.” Gary mentors start-up businesses through Launchpad, the Greater Williamsburg Business Incubator, in New Town.
Couragio is a one-man operation, although Gary may look to hire a few trusted employees one day. He relies heavily on referrals to land new clients. “I don’t advertise because what I do is hard for people to understand without experiencing it, first hand,” he says. “I also tend to work myself out of jobs. When people are making progress and growing their confidence and skills, they will eventually no longer need regular coaching.”
Along with his business work, Gary continues to give live speeches and music performances to hone his skills and remember the jitters many of his clients feel. “Even now, I sometimes still have a little bit of that wonder, ‘Will they like me?’” he admits. “I can talk myself off the ledge, though, because what is labeled ‘anxiety’ can instead be seen as a chance to have an impact on people’s lives.”
Gary also keeps putting himself in unfamiliar territory. Currently, he is learning to speak Swedish. “I’m constantly doing things I don’t know how to do,” he says. “It’s not easy to be new at something, but it’s so worthwhile in the end.”
Helping others discover that fulfillment, he believes, is his calling.
“Teaching someone the skills necessary to be able to communicate effectively is what drives me, 24/7,” Gary Plaag says. “Helping them reach their goals is what pushes me to live. It doesn’t feel like work.” NDN
We all know that presentation aids, when used effectively, can help gain attention, enhance understanding through illustration, help listeners organize their ideas, and help to make ideas “stick”. Use of such tools is known as “visual rhetoric”, which focuses not only on what the audience hears, but also on what the audience sees. Presentation aids that are often used today include graphs, maps, photos, models, objects, charts, flip charts, whiteboards, sound effects, and even smells.
In this guide, we’ll first take a look at slide construction tips, followed by a few guidelines for effectively delivery.
Slide Construction Tips
When using presentation aids effectively it’s important to remember a few basic guidelines:
#1 Simple and Uncomplicated
Visual “aids” are supposed to help your audience understand your message. Busy, complicated visual aids are not helpful. Remember to keep the visuals simple and uncomplicated – this means being careful that the visual images (often PowerPoint or Keynote slides) don’t upstage the speaker or presenter.
Sometimes presenters get a little carried away with the “cool” features of the presentation software they are using or they include a video clip that has a greater impact than their message. Avoid that temptation if you want your message to “stick” with your audience.
#2 Colors and Fonts
Choose wisely when using colors and fonts. Are the colors and fonts you chose communicating the message that you want to send? Certain type faces and colors “speak” to the audience better than others. For example, red and orange communicate excitement and interest while blue and green tend to have a calming effect.
Also remember that colors can appear more vibrant on your large work monitor than when displayed through a video projector. Fonts and font enhancements (bold, italics, etc) can create the right, or wrong, mood. The font style needs to convey the right message and the text needs to be large enough to be seen from a distance.
#3 Communicate Clearly
Construct slides that communicate a clear message and can be easily understood with a quick glance away from the speaker.
Remember, if the audience is reading a text-heavy slide they are probably NOT listening to what you’re saying. We think we can multi-task. Truth is, we can’t. We can either listen actively to the speaker/presenter or we can actively read the information on the slide. Make it easy for your audience to fully benefit from you AND the visual aids.
Presentation Delivery Tips
Now that we’ve discussed a few important slide creation tips, let’s jump into some delivery ideas that will help keep your audience engaged.
#1 Rehearse Like You Perform
Rehearse using your presentation aids. Nothing reeks of “unprofessional” like a presenter who fumbles through a slide deck and appears unprepared. I once heard someone comment “A fool with a tool is still a fool.” Always know what’s on each slide, how to activate imbedded videos, how to work the sound, if needed, etc. Multiple rehearsals using the presentation aids will help to ensure a quality performance and help you to NOT be a fool with a really cool tool.
#2 Make Consistent Eye Contact
Make eye contact with the audience, not the presentation aids. Many people insist on looking at the projection screen, whiteboard or flip chart and talking TO it, rather than sharing information directly with the audience. When you’re making eye contact with the audience you also have a much better chance of the audience hearing everything you say. Eye contact with the audience is the best way to keep them engaged for the duration of your performance.
#3 No Pass-arounds
Avoid passing objects around the audience while you’re on stage. “Pass-arounds” are generally a distraction that takes away from your performance and your ability to effectively convey your message to the audience. If you’re handing things out, then YOU are pre-occupied and not giving your performance all of your energy.
Coincidentally, the audience is also pre-occupied watching you hand things out and passing things around. If you need to provide handouts to the audience, avoid giving the audience ALL of the handouts at once. Only give them the handout that is relevant to the topic you’re covering, and then only at the time the audience needs to have it. If you can have someone else distribute the handouts, that would be even better than you doing it.
For more guidance on creating presentation slides that keep your audience engaged, I created this quick read packed with examples and tips…
A presentation skills seminar does more than remind you to look at your audience and speak in a clear tone. It dives into the root of your presentation challenges and helps you emerge with confidence, a clear vision of your communication style, and powerful tools to deliver a clear message that engages your audience…every time.
Great presenters and communicators are generally not born with those skills.
Let that sink in….great presenters and communicators are generally not born with those skills. They gain them through training, coaching, practice, and observing others who have powerful communication skills.
Whatever your challenge is, nerves and anxiety, dealing with pressure to be “perfect”, audience perception of you, lack of self-confidence, lack of audience engagement, self-doubt, or fear of allowing your “true self” to be seen…mitigating those challenges and becoming a great presenter are within your grasp. All you need to do is find the right educational opportunities (class/workshop/coach/mentor/tools) to get to the root of your challenges and guide you to powerful growth and development.
In your quest for the right solution, look for testimonials that talk about how the workshop/class/seminar addressed the root of the person’s challenge(s)…and not just that “it was a great workshop that really helped me.”
What exactly should you be looking for in testimonials?
Some of my favorite “acknowledgments”, as reported by my presentation skills seminar participants include:
1. “It opened up the walls that were in place and introduced me to heartfelt vulnerability and allowing my true self to be seen.”
2. “…inspired confidence, enthusiasm, and an enjoyment for presenting that I had trouble finding before … truly allowing me to find my presenting style and voice.”
3. “To get out of my own way and perceived limitations and see my potential.”
4. “…will help you forget about outside pressures and focus on the internal mental functionality to deliver a smooth, concise presentation.”
5. “I thought I was a good presenter because I was following all the best practices. What I realized during the workshop is that I was missing opportunities to deliver my content in a genuine, authentic way that truly engages the audience.”
6. “Helped me overcome substantial anxiety issues that have affected my public performances for years. He helped me to get outside of my comfort zone and break down the walls keeping me from moving past those limitations.”
Testimonials that speak to addressing individual challenges are a great indicator that a workshop and/or coach can help you get on the right path to becoming a truly effective presenter.
You have the potential to be a great presenter. We all do.
So…what are you waiting for? Get started on your quest right away. A year from now you’ll look back and wish you’d started today.
If you’d like to schedule a free assessment to get you on the right path, connect with me and we’ll set one up.
If you already know you are ready to take the next step and overcome your challenges then sign up for my next Presentation Workshop!
And here is the promised text version for those that prefer to read.
Opening Attention Getters
Have you ever heard someone try to hook the audience with “Hello, my name is X and today I’m going to talk about Y”?
What was the impact? There probably wasn’t much excitement in the room and you and the rest of the audience settled in for 60 minutes of tolerating whatever the speaker’s topic was. You see, in most cases audiences don’t really care who you are until they have a reason to care.
Using that same strategy, imagine an episode of the TV show “Law and Order” that starts off with “This is ‘Law and Order’ and today you’re going to watch detectives solve a crime.” You would probably agree there’s not much excitement or intrigue in that introduction. When the introduction to the show doesn’t catch you with the opening scene there’s a strong chance that you’ll change the channel in search of something more exciting and interesting.
But what about the episode that starts with a clip of the crime being committed and then cuts to the opening credits? If you’re like most people, you want to stay tuned in to find out who committed the crime and how the perpetrator gets caught. We are intrigued by the anticipation of hearing the story and learning what is next.
This is the highly successful introduction recipe that we see on TV, in movies, in stage shows, at concerts…in nearly every public event where the performer is successful at engaging the audience from the very beginning.
So, if your goal is to “hook” your audience, always start your presentation with an exciting attention-getter that captures the audience’s interest and compels them to hear “the rest” of your story.
Here are 4 ways to hook the audience every time (there are more, but try these first):
Using a statistic that startles or impresses the audience is a powerful attention-getting tool. Make sure the statistic has something to do with the topic you will be presenting and always site the reference from which you got the statistic. This strategy looks like this when, for example, the speaker is talking about food consumption trends in the US: “According to a 2013 study by the US Department of Agriculture, bananas and apples topped the list of the most popular fresh fruits, with bananas at 11.4 pounds per person per year, beating out apples at 10.7 pounds.”
Quotations that are related to your topic are powerful because they get the audience to think AND they provide the credibility that people need in order to believe what they just heard. An example of starting a presentation with a powerful quotation is: “Babe Ruth, the iconic baseball player, once said ‘Never let the fear of striking out get in your way’.” This is interesting if you add the fact that Babe Ruth, as is the case with many others who have home run records, had a lot more strike-outs each year than home runs. This quote and “back story” are relevant to many life situations today and relate well to audiences.
Question: Actual and Rhetorical
Asking the audience a question that causes them to raise their hands is a great way to start a presentation. “How many of you have ever flown in a helicopter?” might be a great opener for a presentation about trying something you’ve never done. It also gives you an idea of how relatable your topic is to the audience. Likewise, a rhetorical question, such as “Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the first person on Mars?” could get the audience thinking about something other than parking the car or what they are having for dinner. Again, make sure the question has something to do with your topic.
Anecdote or Personal Story
Starting with a story is a great way to quickly connect with your audience because humans of all ages and cultures love stories. Cave people told stories through pictures. Cultures and societies without a written language passed their histories down to subsequent generations through stories.
Scientific studies tell us that stories activate all the parts of our brains that would be engaged if we were actually experiencing what’s happening in the story. That’s why stories work to “hook” audiences. Try it…you’ll like it…and so will your audiences.
Tip: Now, most people who try a new “attention-getter” strategy want to first tell the audience they are going to share a statistic, quote or anecdote, or ask them a question. Resist that urge and just start with the attention getter. The impact will be very powerful.
Of course, once you’ve hooked the audience, it’s your job to keep them engaged throughout your performance. That’s another topic for another post!
6 Strategies of Networking Heroes that Everyone Can Use
Have you ever seen that person at a business networking event who seems to know just about everyone? Or how about the person who arrives at an event only knowing a few people and by the end of the event has left an indelible, positive mark on everyone s/he has met? These types of people are amazing networkers. You probably leave events saying to yourself “I want to have that kind of rapport with people I meet at these events.”
The networking hero.
So, what is it about them that makes them so successful? Is it because they are famous or notable before they arrive at the event? Do they have a unique characteristic that others find appealing? Is it something about their personalities? Do they wear cologne that draws people to them? Is it the way they’re dressed? Do they speak with a mysterious accent that others find attractive and captivating?
Well, some of those things might be compelling, but usually, these networking heroes have mastered the art of networking by using six basic networking tools that are guaranteed to connect strongly with people they meet.
That’s right! Just six simple tools, some practice and commitment and anyone can become a professional that feels comfortable and effective in networking settings.
These tools are available to all of us…we often just don’t know about them and therefore, we don’t use them. So, let’s change that for you right now!
The six basic things that all networking heroes do are:
Make a lasting, personal connection;
Get the other person talking;
Maintain consistent eye contact;
Demonstrate a “host” mentality;
Follow-up within 12-18 hours.
Let’s take a deeper look at each of the basics and discuss WHY they are important tools for the networking pro.
#1 – Make A Lasting, Personal Connection
When you meet a networking hero, s/he will introduce her/himself and then ask you for your name. If the networker is really skilled, s/he will immediately use your name in a statement back to you. That might sound like this: “Oh, Joanne, it’s nice to meet you.” If your first and/or last name is “unique” and not a common name found in American English culture like Mary Jones, John Thompson, Steve Kline, Doug Smith, etc. they will ask you if they pronounced your name correctly. I often have this issue when I meet people for the first time. They normally pronounce my last name incorrectly. Usually it’s because they weren’t listening carefully.
If the savvy networker didn’t catch your name at first they may ask you to repeat your name so they “get it right” and then they will try it another time or two just to be sure they are saying it correctly. Why is this a big deal? Because networking heroes know that one’s name is arguably her/his favorite word. Doesn’t it sting a little when someone doesn’t pronounce your name correctly? Consider how good it feels for someone you just met to take the time to make sure your name is pronounced correctly. This creates a lasting, personal connection between the two of you. The true test as to just how skilled the networking pro is will be whether s/he remembers your name the next time you meet!
#2 Be A Committed Conversationalist
An important characteristic that all networking heroes do is encourage the other person to talk and then keep them talking. Savvy networkers are out to quickly learn as much as they can about the people they meet. You see, networking pros want to maximize their networking time and make as many valuable business connections as possible.
The only way to do that is to learn enough about the people they meet to determine if setting up a dedicated meeting would be beneficial to each of them.
Effective networkers strive to be seen by others as great conversationalists. They say things like “tell me about what you do”, “tell me more about your business”, and “what is it about your work that gets you excited to get up and go to work every day?”
If you ever have a conversation with a great networker who uses this tool you’ll walk away from the encounter saying to yourself “Wow! That person was a great conversationalist! I felt like I was the most important person in the room while we were talking.”
The crazy thing is that you will probably know very little about the hero because s/he only got you to talk about yourself! The key to success here is that the pro networker doesn’t politely wait for you to finish what you’re saying so s/he can talk about her/himself. The pro is genuinely interested in hearing about your business, how long you’ve been in that field, what you love about your job, etc.
Why so many probing questions? Because the savvy networker is checking to see if you are a good match for him/her to refer you to someone else or to do business with him/herself. The only way to find out that information is to get you talking about you and your business.
What questions should you ask?
You could ask very specific questions if you do your homework. If you happen to know who will be attending an event, you can do a bit of research online to learn more about them. This is not stalking. Just learn about their business and interests and see if you can work that into the conversation.
For those people that you don’t know anything about, think of some interesting questions ahead of time that will start a genuine conversation. Here are a few to get you started:
How did you decide to do what you do?
What do you like best about what you do?
What is an ideal client for you?
How can I help YOU?
#3 Actively Listen
This networking tool ties in closely with Strategy #2, since the only way to stay engaged in a quest to learn more about someone else is to keep probing and asking questions based on the answers to previous questions. Active listening requires being “present” and totally engaged in what the other person is saying.
Being a committed and active listener is tough to do. It requires discipline and practice! Granted, it’s really easy to get distracted by “shiny things” in the room like other people you want to meet, friends, texts, phone calls, etc. Active listening in a networking setting requires a total and selfless commitment to hearing the other person’s story, as brief, concise or mundane as that story might be.
It’s the other person’s story and to him or her, it’s very important. Besides, there’s really no value in talking to your friends at this event because you already know them. Always use the networking event as a chance to make new contacts….never to catch up with friends. Instead, invite your friends to a future lunch or coffee and catch up then. Talking to people you already know wastes your networking opportunities.
Unless there’s some dire reason to have your phone on while you’re at the networking event (sometimes we have child and aging parent issues for which we need to be “on-call”, but barring something like that), leave the phone off or in your car. It’s impossible to be a fully “present’ and active listener when you’re distracted. Eliminate as many distractions as possible.
Once enough information has been shared to determine whether or not this is a good networking “fit” for business, the savvy networker will either politely disconnect and move on to meet other potential business connections or suggest a subsequent meeting for more in-depth conversation. If a future meeting is warranted, swap contact information (card, etc) and move on to meet more people.
#4 Maintain Consistent Eye Contact
Being able to maintain consistent eye contact, either as a listener or as a talker, is very difficult for some people. Many say it’s easier to look at someone else who’s talking than to look at another person while you are talking.
In an August 2014 article in Forbes Magazine, Carol Kinsey Goman points out that there is a “right” amount of eye contact for various situations. She encourages readers to consider Goldilocks’ lessons in the story of the three bears where Goldilocks learns that, for each of the things she does as she explores the bears’ house, the best guide was to select the item that was “right.” As you may recall, the temperature of the porridge, the size of the chair, and the comfort of the bed that she selected were “just right.”
In a networking situation, just the right amount of eye contact can be perceived by your conversation partner as more believable, confident and competent. Too little eye contact and the other person could get the idea that you are uncomfortable, unsure or not interested in the conversation. Too much eye contact and others might conclude that you are staring at them, leaving them feeling intimidated, dominated and uncomfortable. Goman suggests that just the right amount of eye contact “produces a feeling of mutual likability and trustworthiness.” That should be your goal as a networking professional.
Because an effective networking hero will be “present” and fully aware of her/his surroundings, s/he will quickly determine what amount of eye contact is “just right” for this person in this situation. Much may depend on the other person’s cultural background (in some cultures eye contact is considered disrespectful), level of self-confidence, and comfort level and experience at such events. Almost no one is comfortable with 100% eye contact with another person.
But consistent eye contact, given the networking environment and situation, is the key to success in making valuable connections. In a business networking situation 75-90% will usually be enough for the other person to conclude that you are interested in learning about her/him. Make eye contact less than 75% and you run the risk of appearing uninterested and disconnected.
Give it a try at your next networking event. If you’re not used to making consistent eye contact, accept the fact that it’s tough to do. At first, you may feel like you’re staring at the other person but keep at it. Until you get more comfortable with making direct eye contact, you can try staring at the bridge of the other person’s nose…between his/her eyes. This will appear to the other person that you ARE making eye contact. Resist the urge to give up and stare at your shoes while you talk. Mastering consistent eye contact is like art; it takes some practice to get it “just right.”
#5 Demonstrate A Host Mentality
Networking pros know that it’s in their best interests to help others feel comfortable at networking events. This gets them known as “heroes” to those who are shy and feel uncomfortable. They also know it’s important to be known as a “connector.” It’s a fact that many people who attend networking events feel uncomfortable because they don’t know many, if any, other people at the event.
That feeling of awkward loneliness can feel like a teenager standing alone at a 9th grade dance hoping to be noticed by someone (Mr. Cellophane from the show “Chicago” comes to mind).
Being rescued from that feeling gives the experienced networker “hero” status in the eyes of the rescued person. Sometimes people who feel uncomfortable around strangers will act like they are busy with their phone or otherwise pre-occupied. I’ve even heard people say before that they wish there was someone in the room who would come and rescue them from their awkwardness.
Go ahead…be a hero! You’ll be remembered in a positive way.
Experienced networkers demonstrate a “host” mentality by moving around the event and connecting people with each other. The work to help eliminate that awkward feeling in other people. They look for people who are standing around alone, introduce themselves, learn a bit about them and then take them to meet other people.
The great thing about this behavior is that the two people the networking pro connects not only become get to know each other, but the networking pro also becomes memorable to the two people s/he connected. People like to refer business to people they like.
I recall a wedding I attended some years ago in Pittsburgh. I arrived at the country club for the reception and I knew only my friend who was getting married. Nearly 25 years had passed between this event and college so I was not part of his current social network. When I walked in the front door he spotted me, quickly came over to greet me, and once the initial pleasantries were concluded, he began introducing me to others at the event.
Wow, did I feel a lot more comfortable? You bet I did! And I’ll always remember my friend’s generous act of kindness that helped make the 4-hour dinner reception a very enjoyable experience.
Now, when I attend networking events where I already know a number of the attendees, I seek out “new” people, get to know them a little bit and then introduce them to other attendees. People standing alone are great “targets” to engage and then play “host” to…they will be very appreciative that someone made them feel better. Go ahead and get your host-mentality on. Start connecting others and you’ll be well on your way to achieving “hero” status!
#6 Follow Up Within 12-18 Hours
Networking heroes don’t let the business cards and contact information they collect at networking events burn a hole in their pockets. Nope…they quickly reach out to the people they’ve met and make a second “touch.” Experienced networkers will tell you it takes five “touches” for a networking acquaintance to become a potential business ally.
The first touch happens when you initially meet. The second is when you reach out to them via email within 12-18 hours of the event where you met. Of course, the earlier you follow up, the stronger the positive impact.
A prompt follow-up email tells the new acquaintance a few things about the networking hero:
the time spent talking with him/her was valuable;
there is interest in continuing to develop the business relationship;
the networking pro has good manners and is capable of expressing gratitude.
If you want to network like the pros, then you’ll be sure to include a prompt follow-up in your networking plans.
That follow-up email could include statements like “I enjoyed meeting you at the XYZ networking event this afternoon/last night/yesterday. Thank you for taking the time to share your story with me about how you got into your current line of work. I would enjoy getting together with you in the next week or so to learn more about you and your business. Please let me know if you’d like to get together again and if so, what dates and times work in your calendar.” If the other person also believes the relationship is valuable, s/he will respond promptly with dates and times that work.
Sometimes, while at networking events, we promise things to the people we meet. It could be a phone number or email address of a resource that’s been recommended to the new acquaintance. It might be an article or guide that would be helpful. You might have promised to provide a “warm” introduction to a contact the acquaintance wanted to meet. A prompt follow-up, with promises executed, will tell the new acquaintance another valuable thing: you keep your word.
I can’t tell you how many people I encounter while networking who don’t fulfill their promises. It tells me a lot about them and their character…and that I probably don’t want to do business with them. A good way to keep track of what you’ve promised is to write what you’ve promised on the back of the other person’s card after you finish your conversation and before you move to the next person. Also include the date and name of the event where you met. That will make things very easy to remember when you sit down to prepare your second “touch.”
So, there you have it…6 strategies networking “heroes” use to get remembered in a positive way. “Are there more?” you ask. Why yes, there are. Get these into your repertoire and I’ll share more once you’ve mastered these.
Remember, anyone can be a networking hero with practice, commitment and positivity.
Oh, and “Happy Networking!”
Ready for more tips and to practice your networking skills? I’d love to see you at my next Networking Class – Finding Your Networking Mojo!
I see it time and time again…people who show up at networking events without their business card “game” on.
They apparently don’t realize that business cards are an important way for people to remember whom they met and to be able to easily contact the people with whom they really want to connect in the future. Perhaps they have a follow-up question to ask, or a referral to pass on, or they want to do business with that person.
Without their contact information, re-connecting is nearly impossible. Some tech-savvy folks could argue that they can easily “find” the person’s company information on-line. This is possible, but unlikely, once life takes over one’s schedule. I’ve often heard, “Oh, yeah, I don’t have any cards on me…I’ll just take yours and then I’ll email you my information later today.” Result: the email rarely happens, again, because life takes over and this task moves out of our minds.
Fact: the business card is still the gold standard of conveying contact information at business meetings and networking events.
People still exchange cards on airplanes, in restaurants and at other less-formal meetings and social gatherings. The business card is the easiest way to share a little about oneself while providing valuable information about how you can be contacted in the future.
4 Major Business Card Errors
So, what are major errors people make with business cards?
No cards/Not enough cards
Using outdated cards
Handing cards out indiscriminately
Putting others’ cards away too soon
#1 No Cards
We’ve already started to discuss the first one: Not having your cards available when you need them.
Not having your cards with you might tell the other person a few things about you:
You don’t plan very well;
You aren’t very detail-oriented;
You’re not serious about your business; and/or,
You aren’t looking for any more business.
None of these may be true but perception is often reality. Why give the other person a negative first impression of you? Always carry enough cards with you so that you never run out.
#2 Using outdated cards
Sometimes at networking events or other business functions I receive someone’s card that has the “old” information scratched through and the “new” information scribbled above, beneath or to the side of the outdated information. My first thought is, “wow…that’s not very professional.” As was mentioned in Business Card Tip #1, this could leave someone with the impression that: 1) you don’t plan well; 2) you can’t afford new cards; 3) you’re not very organized; etc.
That said, sometimes circumstances occur where you are just “stuck” (for whatever reason) with the old cards for a few events. Thus, you conclude that the “best” thing to do is to update them by hand. Great idea…until it’s not.
Unless you have your grandmother edit your cards for you, (they always have great handwriting and penmanship, at least mine did! <wink>), just reprint them. Since most of us don’t have great handwriting the “fixed” card looks cheap and unprofessional. This can be especially damaging to your first impression, depending on what your occupation is. Imagine receiving a “fixed” card from someone whose job is all about image and attention to details (wedding planner, accountant, attorney, doctor, etc.). How much would you trust that person to handle detailed transactions for you if they didn’t seem to have a good grip on their own details? Even if you have to print “temporary” plain white cards on your printer until your official cards are delivered, do it.
Tip: Most stationary manufacturers offer pre-scored/cut business card stock that works in most home office printers.
#3 – Giving everyone a card
Giving everyone you meet a card is poor form and reeks of desperation (even if you’re not desperate to get new business, it looks like it!). Only hand cards to people who ask for them. You can use the same strategy…only ask people for a card if you really want to connect with them again in the future.
At the end of the day, handing your cards out to everyone, even folks who don’t ask for one, doesn’t mean you now have a bunch of new connections. Allow the other person to ask you for your card. This indicates that they have an interest in finding out more about you and your business or that they might have an idea of someone else with whom they could connect you.
#4 – Pocketing others’ cards too soon
When you ask someone for her card and she hands you one, avoid the urge to immediately stick the card in your pocket.
Men are especially prone to this because they usually have a shirt pocket or a jacket pocket where they can easily deposit the card to keep their hands free.
Bad idea! Why? Because once you’ve deposited the other person’s business card you no longer have access to the information on it without digging for it…especially the person’s name. Unless this person has on a name tag and/or you have a really good memory for names, you are probably not going to remember his/her name.
So what should you do instead? Hold on to the other person’s card until you exit the conversation. That’s right…hold it in your hand until you are finished talking to this person.