In a professional networking situation, make sure your conversations are effective, impressive, and memorable (for the right reasons) with tips from speech improvement coach Kyle Zamcheck.

In professional networking, it isn’t necessary to list off your achievements to a potential new client or colleague. The whole point of meeting in person is that your new connections get to meet you, and eventually appreciate your achievements. When you genuinely connect with someone, whatever bullet points are on your resume become secondary to the way you relate.

What people really care about is:

Are you likable and interesting to talk to?

What motivates you personally and professionally?

What would working with you be like?

At the end of the conversation, would they want to continue their relationship with you?

Consider the Human vs. Business Model

To help you communicate appropriately in a networking setting, I suggest the Human Business Model. I use this model with clients to help them have more meaningful interactions and build longer lasting relationships.

There are two kinds of conversations that happen naturally during networking: the human interaction and the business interaction. Successful conversation results from having the proper balance of both.

Understanding the Human Business Model will give you freedom to utilize the model when you want to be more socially skillful, when you aren’t feeling particularly comfortable in a social situation, or if you want to be more strategic in your conversations.

Always begin conversations on the human level

Arriving at a networking event, most of our brains are busy, frenetically assessing what professional accomplishments we can use as ice breakers. Getting wound up over what foot to put forward takes away from your ability to be yourself and listen to the person you’re talking with.

Offer a friendly sentence or two instead. It’ll give you a chance — before you say your name and go in for a handshake — to ask yourself: “Do they appear open to meeting me?” And “is this person happy to connect or am I forcing them into it?”

If someone is not interested in connecting, move on

Networking events are meant to be satisfying. If an individual interaction isn’t panning out, seek out a different, potentially more suitable connection. If you’re unable to connect with anyone, then review the event and possible ways you can be more effective next time. Reflecting will vastly increase your ability to feel comfortable knowing both your strengths and areas to improve.

When you do establish a connection, build up to business when it feels appropriate

You make a lasting impression when your first interaction focuses on creating a human connection. The personal aspect of meeting someone is the foundation on which all potential future business will be built. Remember: Likability and trust are the foundation of business relationships.

Mind your P’s and CUES: Assess the other person

In my last article, we focused on body language and what it communicates about you. A large component of what you say, when starting on the personal and human level, is how you say it. A personal introduction with no warmth in your voice, smile, or eye contact lacks the friendliness that needs to accompany the human side of business.

Be aware of your own behaviors, while assessing what the person you’re talking with is saying with their words and body language. If you’re paying attention to their cues, you’ll be able to gauge how much personal versus business conversation interests the other person. Everyone attends networking events with different intentions and goals. Some people want all business, so adjust your topics to meet that need.

An appropriate balance of human vs. business will change with each person. Observe what the other person elaborates on. If personal questions yield one-word responses, keep the conversation focused on business and vice versa.

If you misjudged the situation, you can always use questions to transition between the two kinds of conversation:

  • Personal question: “Are you from around here, or what first brought you to Boston?”
  • Business question: “I’d love to hear more about your company. Was this the first role you had at the company?”

Take Networking Notes

Of course, you’ll want to follow up on your successful interactions with future correspondence.

After speaking with someone, store the personal and business information you’ve learned about them in your mental file cabinet. If you have trouble retaining information, once the conversation has ended and you’ve stepped away, take out your phone and make some notes. This makes the next stage of networking—the follow-up—a lot easier. If you’re an avid app user, Namerick is great for this stage of the networking process.

Use Lighting Cues

Striking a comfortable balance between personal and business conversation means responding to the person you’re talking with, as well as the environment you’re in.

The context and environment tells you a lot about the expectation of the rapport. Are you in a corporate office space, bar, coffee shop, someone’s home? A great tool to assess your environment is to observe the lighting in the space. Excluding outdoor daytime events, lighting is a direct indication of the kind of relationship that’s expected to be cultivated.

Generally, the dimmer the lighting, the more personal the atmosphere, so use the setting to help you determine how heavy on the business or personal side your conversations might sway. Remember: Your assessment of the other person is paramount to your assessment of the environment!

Always End Conversations on the Personal Level

Thanking a person for their time is a great way to end a conversation. If someone is in a rush, your respectful acknowledgement can go a long way. Don’t hesitate to say, “I know you said you only had a few minutes and I don’t want to delay you. May I have your card?” People appreciate when you respect their time.

Kyle Zamcheck is a coach and trainer with the international firm The Speech Improvement Company. With a background in psychology and intergroup dialogue, Zamcheck works with clients to help them strengthen their communication effectiveness. Hailing from Boston and residing in Austin, Texas, Zamcheck is learning the art of the southern twang and wearing great cowboy boots.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

Let's take action, Grownup.

Check out our courses to start taking action on your goals any time.

Take a course

Let's stay in touch, Grownup.