Posted by: Audrey Erbes | August 10, 2009

More Networking Opportunities and Some Wisdom on “Real Networking”

Looking forward to seeing many of you at Bio2Device Group’s evening meeting at TIPS in Palo Alto tomorrow night, the Golden Gate Polymer meeting on the 13th and/or Fountain Blue Life Science Forum on the 17th. Be sure to mark your calendar for the 19th, Wednesday, to attend the UCSC Extension free evening discussion of biotechnology, bioinformatics and bioscience business and marketing courses.
I’ve included the downloadable full list of my picks for August meetings MeetingListAug9 but also included  a fellow B2DG member Mitch Gordon’s advice on how to network in comfortable and natural way  when the opportunity arises. I’ve listed the link to his website below the article where you can find more industry related blogs of potential interest.

Thank you, Mitch, for agreeing to my sharing this on my blog.


“Form a Real Social Network by Talking to People” by Mitch Gordon

The press is certainly a-Twitter these days about how Linked In you should be, isn’t it? It seems as though you can hardly read a magazine, watch TV, or attend an association meeting without hearing about the importance of social networking media, especially LinkedIn, Twitter, and FaceBook. These electronic social networks promise, according to all the buzz, to make you well-known, well-loved, and instantly connected to everyone in the world without ever leaving your computer or setting down your smart-phone.

Technology worship is nothing new in the U.S. And in many cases, new technologies do help to make our complicated lives more manageable. But technology is a double-edged sword–it is highly addictive, it can complicate rather than simplify your life, and it can sometimes replace some valuable part of being human with a flashy but shallow electronic mimic.

While networking is crucial to successful job searching or freelance business development, electronic networking tools are only part of the picture. You have to get out and meet people. This was one of the themes in an entertaining and useful talk called “How to Work a Room” by Susan Roane, a professional speaker and author of several excellent books on networking (including “How to Work a Room” and “Face to Face,” each under $15 on Amazon). But what if you’re not very good at it? What if you’re shy and don’t know how to approach someone in a roomful of people? What do you say? What if you’re a scientist or engineer and not noted for your social skills?

Susan offers a great deal of good advice on how to start conversations and keep them going in a mutually satisfying way. While there are some tricks, much of it comes down to how you look at the situation. First of all, there’s the matter of shyness. There’s research that says that most people identify themselves as shy. That should tell you that many of the people in the room are having trouble overcoming the same obstacle as you (unless you’re at a sales convention). Walking up to someone who is standing alone and striking up a conversation may lead to some pleasant surprises. It’s also a kind thing to do. And here’s a trick, and a pretty low-tech one–smile at people.

So you’ve walked up to someone, shaken their hand and told them your name. What do you do next? You need to say something about yourself in 7 or 8 seconds. I’ve heard fancy names for this like your “verbal logo,” but I just call it my introduction or opening. Its purpose is to give the person you’re meeting a context to place you in. So at a meeting where not everyone knows what a medical writer is, I might say “Hi, I’m Mitch Gordon. I’m a medical writer. I help scientists and medical people turn their knowledge into good writing.” At a wedding you might say “I’m the bride’s cousin–we’ve known each other since we were kids.”

The introduction lets the person know something about you that’s relevant to the situation, arouses their curiosity, and gives the two of you something to talk about initially. I like to keep it simple and avoid marketing-speak. At a professional association meeting you might be able to get away with “I add value for clients by proactively blah blah blah,” but why inflict this on an innocent stranger? And that 30-second elevator speech that you practiced at that job seekers’ workshop? Forget it. The elevator speech is a perfectly good response in an interview when asked to “tell us a little about yourself.” It’s not a suitable introduction to someone you just walked up to. It’s too long, and it dominates and stifles the fragile new conversation.

This brings us to a key point about conversations–they are back and forth. You should be asking, “so how about you–what do you do?” before too much time goes by. Think of tennis–my serve, your side, my side, your side, my side. This is not football, where you laboriously push for another 10 yards of your opponent’s territory. You want to avoid dominating a conversation, but you don’t want to relinquish it either.

Enjoy your conversation, and learn new things about other people and their work. Although less structured than an informational interview, where there is a clear purpose to your discussion, a casual conversation at an association meeting can also teach you much about your field, particular companies, and other business matters you’d like to know about. Treat networking as self-education as much as it is about building up your base of contacts. And this should go without saying, but conclude the conversation with a handshake and an exchange of business cards (you did bring business cards, didn’t you?). Follow up the next day by entering the business cards you collected into a contacts spreadsheet or database, and send each person an invitation to become a connection on LinkedIn (see my article about LinkedIn for more on this). And this may sound quaint and retro, but the next time you need to talk to that person, consider an old-fashioned alternative to email–Pick Up the Phone (PUP for short).

While there is no question in my mind that electronic tools like LinkedIn have an important place in your networking, the role of the electronic tool is subsidiary to the role of your voice, your smile, your expression of interest in another person’s work, your ability to succinctly talk about yourself, and so on. We rely too much on technology, and immerse ourselves in it rather than reach out to other people in a more personal way. When you get past the jargon, a word like “networking” is really just a techie substitute for “getting to know people” or “building a community of colleagues” or “helping one another.” Communication is between people, so keep it interpersonal. Without us, our computers and smart phones would have nothing to talk about with each other.

[Note: This article was originally published in the BioTech Ink Insider.]

About the Author

Mitch Gordon has been a professional writer for 16 years. He is completing his Masters degree in Regulatory Affairs, to be finished in early 2010. His specialties are regulatory and clinical documentation, as well as a wide range of other writing and editing roles that support life sciences companies.

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