There is an old saying that “it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.” That is why a great network is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your arsenal when you are going through a job search or want to move your career forward.
If you have nurtured relationships and given back as much or more than you have asked, your network will be there when you need it. And, networking should never end. Whether you use LinkedIn to stay in touch and connect with others or attend formal and informal events, successful people will tell you that networking should be a lifelong endeavor.
There is an art and science to networking when you are face to face with potential contacts and body language is part of this art.
If you have ever attended a networking event there are always the typical suspects at these events. The guy who lurks on the periphery of a conversation trying to insert himself; the woman who comes up and hands you her card with a brief introduction and moves off to the next person; or my favorite, the person who engages in a conversation with you only to be constantly looking over your shoulder looking for their next victim. These tactics do nothing to encourage the type of connection that is critical to developing a trusted relationship in your network.
Why Body Language is Important
Research shows that you have roughly seven seconds to make an impression. Once that impression is formed, it is difficult to change it. Therefore, you have to develop skills that will help you make that best, first impression.
Younger workers are struggling more with this type of interaction. As a generation that has been raised on social media, interacting with live people does not come natural. I remember speaking with a nurse recruiter at a large hospital who was so frustrated with candidates. She mentioned that these candidates who looked great on paper would come in and were unable to make eye contact, couldn’t make small talk or ask meaningful questions and had a difficult time convincing her they would know how to engage and care for patients.
So, let’s look at a few tips that can help you.
Eye Contact. If you want an example of someone who knows how to engage an audience, look at former President Bill Clinton. People who meet him would say that when they were speaking with him, even in a receiving line, he would never take his eyes off them and made them feel they were the most important person there. Wow!
Successful, confident people look you straight in the eye and pay attention. So if you’re at an event and you’re in a conversation, pay attention and make sure that person feels that they have your attention. Even if that person may not be a great contact, stay engaged and after a few minutes you can politely disengage from the conversation.
Facial Expressions. This goes hand in hand with eye contact. It should go without saying that yawning while you’re talking to someone is never appropriate. While you’re talking, smile, nod in agreement or show compassion if someone is sharing some bad news. In other words, leave the impression that you cared about what that person had to say and were listening.
There is an entire science built around a skill called “active listening.” Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.
Arms and Hands: Arms act as defensive barriers when across the body, and conversely indicate feelings of openness and security when in open positions, especially combined with open palms.
Be conscious of what you’re doing with your arms and hands when you’re in a conversation. If someone is speaking to you and you’re arms are folded, you’re sending a subliminal signal that you don’t want to hear what they’re saying. If you’ve got a drink in your hand and your clasping it with both hands and positioning it in front of you, you’re sending signals that you’re a little nervous.
Also, when you’re the one who is speaking be careful about pointing fingers while talking which can come off as a little aggressive. But, if you’re talking and your palms are up and moving, you’re conveying a sense of enthusiasm and others will engage.
There is no question this is a skill that for some needs to be learned and cultivated over time. If you haven’t been to networking events in awhile or you’re just starting out, practice. This may not come naturally, but you can fake it until you make it.
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