Wouldn’t it be great if we could just put up our shingle and all the clients who need us would start showing up? That’s similar to what happened in the movie Field of Dreams, but it is not rooted in the reality of running a health and wellness business. What we must build in order for our clients to come is a strong network of referral partners, clients, vendors, contractors, supporters, and cheerleaders. To accomplish that, we must be able to explain what we do clearly and confidently while coming across as friendly and professional. Networking with purpose takes some planning and practice of what we will say and how we will say it.
Depending on the type of networking we are engaged in (e.g., formal or informal, in person or online), we use our voices to introduce ourselves, give elevator pitches about our business, ask and answer questions, make introductions to others, deliver presentations, and/or make small talk. Our voices say a lot about us and should not be taken for granted. They can convey our level of confidence, competence, or nervousness. They reveal our personality, mood, and energy level. We only have a few seconds to make a positive first impression, and the more prepared we are, the more likely we are to see a return on our networking investment.
Here are five tips to Make Your Voice Mean Business™ when networking (and some pitfalls to avoid):
- Set your intention before you begin. (Don’t show up to networking events unprepared.) Your intention for networking is two-fold. First, set a goal for what you intend to accomplish. For example, you might want to make three strong connections with potential referral partners, meet two specific influencers who will also be attending the event, or find opportunities to speak to new groups about your business. Second, set an intention of how you want to come across to those you meet. Some common intentions include sounding knowledgeable, approachable, professional, funny, or trustworthy. Don’t skip this first step. If you do, you risk wasting valuable time and energy.
- Keep it simple. (Don’t ramble on and on using terms and phrases that others don’t understand.) I like to challenge my coaching clients to describe what they do so that a third grader could understand it, which helps them hone their message. Keep vocabulary, sentence structure, and sentence length as simple as possible. Remember that industry-specific jargon and abbreviations are not universally understood, and that you don’t need to reveal EVERYTHING about your business when you first meet someone. Shorter and simpler introductions and business descriptions are like a breath of fresh air in networking environments. People notice and appreciate your brevity and clarity, are more likely to remember you and what you do, and will want to do business with you in the future.
- Speak to connect. (Don’t make it all about you.) Synonyms for the word network include net, system, web, and link. These all involve multiple components working together, strengthened synergistically as the network expands. It is important to network with a connection mindset (not a self-centered approach). To quickly establish rapport with a new person, look for common hobbies, interests, or mutual contacts. Spend time getting to know that person both professionally and personally. Make eye contact and smile during your conversation. “When you smile, people treat you differently. You’re viewed as attractive, reliable, relaxed, and sincere.” (Psychology Today, “There’s Magic in Your Smile”) Smiling has a positive effect on your mood and is contagious. You’ll have a better time if you smile!
- Speak with an engaging voice. (Don’t assume that people will listen just because you are talking.) Networking rooms are often loud, and we must be able to project our voices over the din of background noises. To be heard, start with good posture. Take frequent deep breaths and support your voice by tightening your abdominal muscles as you speak. Don’t try to talk louder by increasing the tension in your throat. That can cause a harsh vocal tone which can be off-putting, and it can cause you to lose your voice. (Networking with laryngitis is no fun.) In addition to projecting your voice, try to avoid filler words such as um, uh, like, you know, and so. Using too many of them is distracting, makes you appear nervous, and undermines your credibility as a competent professional. Use vocal inflection that helps you sound more interesting. Emphasize key words and phrases through contrasts in pitch, volume, and rate. Don’t be monotone!
- Remember to take turns. (Don’t monopolize the conversation.) Conversation includes speaking and listening. Making small talk is sometimes challenging but is helpful when meeting new people. Asking good questions is a great way to find things to talk about. Before you network, create a list of questions to ask the people you meet. You can inquire about a person’s hobbies, family, favorite movies or books, other networking events they attend, or why they decided to attend the current one. Be sure to listen to their answers and ask appropriate follow-up questions. When it’s your turn to speak, pause between your thoughts. Embracing a second or two of silence has benefits. It gives others time to process what you just said and allows you to plan your next thought or question. Silent pauses help reduce the use of filler words. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of pauses in networking is they provide a natural stopping place when one of you is ready to move on. As you move on, be sure to get contact information from the people you felt the strongest connections with so you can continue the conversation later.
Above all, do get out there and network, even if you don’t want to – it is the foundation for growing your business. When you are there, remember to put your best voice forward to get the best results.