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Read the Label When Networking

By: Bonnie Coffey


Like most people, I have learned how to do several things at once; I am a multi-tasking tsarina. One afternoon, I raced into the grocery store to pick up several items and walked the aisles with cell phone in hand, listening to messages and returning non-business calls. I athletically tossed items into the basket: macaroni, tomato sauce, cheese—all items for one of my favorite quick and easy meals. Always on a schedule, I raced home and threw together the ingredients for dinner for one of my all-time favorites: Chili-Mac.

When I had slowed down enough to eat, I anticipated that first bite. I’d been thinking about this family dish for a while—but I was rudely surprised. It didn’t taste the same—in fact, it was downright hot—as in chili pepper hot! Trying to figure out what happened, I checked the spices I had used and then spied the tomato sauce can in the trash. There, on the side of the can, it clearly stated: “Extra Spicy.” Well, there you are.
Skating through a networking event is a bit like my grocery store trip. You won’t be able to notice the “fine print” unless you take a big breath at the door and remember that you’re not attending to make that jillion-dollar deal, you’re there to expand your horizons—and this process should take every bit of your attention. Your primary job is to concentrate solely on your conversational partner, listening carefully to what they say and then creating what we call a “meaty” conversation. Face-to-face (F2F) networking is a full-engagement activity in which you ask great questions that help you learn more about this person in front of you so a relationship can be built.
Great questions are the ones you learned in high school journalism: Who, What, Where, When and Why. As a former live radio talk show host, I can tell you from experience that it is not a good idea to ask questions that can be answered “yes” or “no,” because that’s exactly what you’ll get. Dead air does not a good radio talk show—or conversation—make. I quickly learned to focus on what my interview was saying and let that not only guide the exchange but give me more “material” to create a successful conversation.
Need some more fodder for possible questions? Try these:
  • Have you been a member of this organization for long?
  • What have you been working on lately? (One of my all-time favorites!)
  • What did you like best about the speaker’s presentation?
  • I’m joining some friends for dinner later—where is a great place to go? Would you like to join us?
Just take time to read the labels!
Published: January 10, 2014

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Bonnie Coffey

Bonnie Coffey is a business and community leader and, as a Certified Trainer and Associate with Contacts Count, LLC, she teaches the skills and strategies of face-to-face (F2F) networking for professional and personal success. Her far-reaching career has impacted business, political, financial, and leadership organizations throughout the country. Her client list includes AARP® Foundation, Heinz Family Philanthropies, U.S. Department of Labor–Women’s Bureau, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, American Chemical Society, Decorating Den, American Business Women’s Association (ABWA), McCombs School of Business/University of Texas at Austin, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Union Pacific. She’s been featured in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, Creative Training Techniques, Women in Business and has been a columnist with the Lincoln Journal Star since 2001.  Her book, “Dreams for Our Daughters,” embodies her belief in the future of our next generation of women leaders.

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