It pays to master the art of schmoozing
SOME PEOPLE understand it takes more than good grades, skills and degrees to move up the career ladder. They realise that mastering the art of schmoozing, or social networking, can put you on the fast track to the executive floor.
This is because, whether you like it or not, success in life is often the result of who you know rather than what you know.
Schmoozing is a contact sport, and you must be prepared to get out there if you want to play.
According to the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast in the United States, more than 40 per cent of adults suffer from social anxiety, and 75 per cent of this is experienced at large gatherings such as parties.
That means entering a room full of strangers is difficult for most people but, since such occasions are also a key arena for networking, these fears must be overcome.
'We were taught to avoid talking to strangers at an early age. So when we have to talk to people we don't know, it feels strange,' said Bernardo Carducci, founder of the Shyness Research Institute. 'The key is just to start.'
Grace Au, business director of the Hong Kong-based events planning firm Media Mix said: 'Joining associations and clubs and volunteering is a good way to gain access.'
Attending local events helps you to practise your schmoozing skills and refine your craft before the big game. Websites such as www.meetup.com offer hundreds of events a month to choose from, and thousands of potential new contacts.
'Target events and go where you feel most comfortable,' said Jeff Hasenfratz, managing director of Mind Sight Asia, a Shanghai-based company that provides career coaching.
When you ask master schmoozers for their secrets, most say there are no firm guidelines, just make it up as you go along. For the less intuitive, though, here are some useful tips:
Make an entrance. People keep an eye on the door of a room, so practise your arrival. Strut in slowly to let everyone know you've arrived.
When striking up a conversation with someone new, just be friendly. Don't try too hard to be witty or sophisticated, and use a simple ice-breaker such as 'I don't think we've met before'.
Prepare something to talk about. Be aware of current events and the weather forecast since both are common topics.
If attending a professional event, make sure you are up to date with trade journals, but avoid using too much industry jargon even among colleagues.
Part of schmoozing involves making formal and sometimes rather elaborate introductions. Act more like a host than a guest. By bringing people together, you will be perceived as someone who is comfortable at parties and has the power to make connections.
Remember that people are watching you, so be on your best behaviour and make good manners part of your daily routine. The way you behave is noticed before a single word is spoken, and social graces make a strong first impression. Also, avoid obvious mistakes such as asking for a job or a favour during a first meeting.
Knowing when to end a conversation is a skill in itself. You want to wrap things up before the conversation runs dry and an awkward silence ensues. As the old show-business maxim goes, leave them wanting more.
Tell the other person you have to say hello to someone else, no matter if this is true. Then quickly confirm one or two points and suggest when or how you might get in touch again. Move across the room and do not turn to someone right next to you and try to start a conversation with them.
Consider sending a short note or e-mail a day or two afterwards as a way of following up on any newly formed relationship.
Do's and don'ts
Do join associations, clubs and industry conferences.
Do make an entrance. Walk in with confidence and a smile.
Do wear your name tag where it can easily be seen.
Do act as if you belong there and be aware of your body language.
Do prepare something to talk about, and be sincere.
Do ask good questions, and listen to the answers.
Do circulate and know when to move on.
Do follow up with a letter or e-mail.
Don't dress sloppily and make a poor first impression.
Don't mention politics, religion or sex.
Don't gossip with someone you have just met.
Don't ask for a job or a favour during a first meeting.
Don't use too much industry jargon.
Don't break off a conversation too abruptly.