Speaker suggests ‘box step’ approach to networking

TRAVERSE CITY – What's worse: cold calling or public speaking? For many in business, they're equally unnerving, but often a part of the job.

For that reason, the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce hosted "The Art of Networking" seminar Sept. 15 at the Grand Traverse Resort to help make introductions and small talk easier.

"Networking is just two people connecting," explained seminar speaker Denise Roberts, who used her urban wit, a bag of candy and coach's whistle to keep the more than 150 attendees attentive.

Networking can be painful, she added, and often feels like "one step above cold calling" because people approach introductions with strong-sell agendas.

"The number one reason why people hate networking is because they feel that they (have to) sell something or at least get a warm body out of it," Roberts said. "Every time I went into a meeting with an agenda I came out with nothing. But when I went with the idea of helping or supporting others, I was successful."

Roberts suggested instead of looking at what you can get out of a new meeting, look at how you can help the other person.

"We all do this in our personal lives," Roberts said. "We all want to help others. Now look at how you can apply that to your business relationships."

To build these types of relationships, Roberts focused on two main points: being a search engine and developing a box step.

To network effectively, you need to know lots of people and what they do. This puts you in a position to give referrals and more importantly help others. Like the company Google, people will eventually come to you in search of products or services.

Being a search engine makes you invaluable because, according to Roberts, every person you talk to knows someone who wants or needs what you're selling.

The question is: how do you meet all these new people?

The answer is found in Roberts' five-step program that makes introductions and small talk effortless. She calls it: the box step.

The first step of the dance is making a plan. Before you hit the next "meet-n-greet," do a little research on the organization or make a "need to meet" list. This puts you in the networking frame-of-mind.

Once you figure out what event you want to go to, the next step is coming up with a creative icebreaker.

Sincere ice-breakers followed by listening skills, said Roberts, will carry you a long way toward building rapport. Openers like: "What brought you to this meeting" or "what can you tell me about this group" are simple, straightforward and will get the conversation flowing.

That's when the third step comes in, "getting-to-know-you" questions. Once you've broken the ice, it's time to stop talking and listen to the other person. People are often too eager to talk about themselves and forget that networking is supposed to be reciprocal.

Talking about the latest hurricane or skyrocketing gas prices, which seem to have nothing to do with your business, is an important part of relationship building, she added.

Often, people overlook the importance of small talk, but that's where you'll find the kind of information that will make you a good search engine. If someone complains about college tuition and you know of a scholarship, you've just made a lasting connection.

Next is developing a self-introduction. Sounds simple, right? Not exactly. Introducing yourself and your business without sounding like a broken record is a challenge after two hours.

Being able to tell people who you are and how valuable you are in less than 10 words is key in networking.

Roberts broke down the introduction into four components: What do I do, for what kind of individual or company do I ideally do what I do, what do my clients/customers need from me, and what do my clients/customers want from me?

Once you've figure out those questions, you have the essence of your own personal introduction.

The last step of the box step is the graceful exit. Since the purpose of attending a networking event is to meet as many new people as you can, you need to be able to move from group to group, gracefully.

Roberts offered making your exit when you have just finished a comment or extending your hand and saying, "It was nice to have met you. Enjoy the rest of your evening." Then move at least two groups away so that you don't offend anyone.

Roberts will be back in February to present her "Painless Prospecting" workshop. For more information, call the Chamber at 947-5075. BN