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All-natural schmooze

Alison Martin

Monday, August 20, 2007

For some, the art of networking is second nature. And, in today’s business world, it’s a business skill that can be as important as computer literacy.

Many people cringe at the thought of networking, but the truth is, we network every day — with our family, our work colleagues and at social events. So, is there a basic formula or well-kept secret to reveal for those who struggle with the inevitable schmooze? If you focus on the networking, and less on the business aspect, it can be relatively easy to do.

Jeanne Martinet, author of The Art of Mingling suggests approaching mingling with two ideas in mind.

“Focus on the fact that you’re going to have a good time,” she says. “People can sense when you are being artificial. All other business goals should be secondary to enjoying yourself,” she adds.”

Effective networking comes with practice so take advantage of the numerous opportunities available at industry parties or office gatherings. Make sure you circulate.

“Think of the party as a buffet,” Martinet says. “You want to sample as much of the buffet as possible.”

A basic tactic for immersing yourself into a schmoozing situation is what Martinet calls “The Fade-in Technique.” The trick is to act as if it is completely natural for you to be joining in — almost as if you have been in the group all along. On the other hand, it may be less daunting to mingle with singles that are easier to approach than a group of strangers.

Engage in short, light conversation. And, rather than initiating conversation with a question or worst of all by inquiring what a person does for a living, Martinet suggests opening with an observation or an honest statement.

“Honesty is refreshing in these atmospheres,” she says. “If you are feeling nervous, use it as an opening line.” Try lines like “ Hi my name is ‘X’ and I don’t know a single person at this party.”

While it’s important to make solid connections, it is also key to “be a butterfly” and stay on the move. Martinet suggests bowing out of conversation politely by saying you have to make a phone call or need to catch up with an old friend. “I promote honesty and lying in my books.”

If you are trapped and just can’t break free from conversation, Martinet suggests using what she calls the “Human Sacrifice” tactic.

“Bring someone new into the conversation. Introduce this individual to the person you were speaking with before you take your leave,” she says. “Not only are you leaving politely, you are also forming a new connection between these two.”

Networking, mingling, schmoozing or whatever you want to call it, is simply connecting with people of like interests for the purpose of uncovering opportunities, increasing knowledge or sharing information. More simply, it’s getting to know people and building relationships.

If you’re still sweating over the thought of networking, Martinet offers these 5 laws of survival:

  1. Remember no one is thinking about you, they’re only thinking about themselves.
  2. It’s ok to lie in order to put people at ease.
  3. Change equals movement and movement equals change.
  4. No one knows what you’re really thinking.
  5. It’s best to escape from someone rather than have someone escape from you.

As long as you stay relaxed and have your business cards, you’ll find that with practice, the rest comes naturally.