JAN BROGAN - Recently, I went back to my alma mater, Boston University College of Communications, to volunteer at an event to help soon-to-be graduating seniors learn how to network. Jodi R. R. Smith, a nationally recognized etiquette consultant, (founder and president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting) had a captive audience as she deftly highlighted the rules and the subtleties of social networking.
Listening in the back row, I had two thoughts:
1. This was the most valuable thing BU could do for its seniors outside of actually guaranteeing them a job.
2. Why oh why, hadn't I heard of any of this before I went to my first mystery conference.
Unlike nearly everyone else on this blog, I'm not a good networker. This is true, even though I'm pretty much an extravert. I overthink things and the whole idea of networking, talking to people with a goal in mind, troubled me. I had also been traumatized by my very first mystery conference when another author trapped me in the elevator for eleven floors and gave me the hard sell on buying his book. Was this what I was supposed to be doing at conferences? Because ---- eew, ick.
Anyway, all that is over - because now I've got the rules. Both funny and practical, Jodi Smith had been featured in numerous magazines and newspapers and has appeared on of NBC Today Show, Good Morning America and the CBS Early Show. Jodi was such a terrific speaker that I knew she would have to have a terrific book. Three to be exact, and the latest, The Etiquette Book: the complete guide to modern manners, is just out and it is not kidding when it says "complete." It touches on everything from baby showers to polishing your professional image to introductions via email.
So please welcome Jodi to Jungle Red.
JAN: How did you get interested in etiquette?
JODI R.R.SMITH: I was horribly shy and found being shy to be rather dull. I started reading etiquette books in high school to provide me with some context for interactions and found quickly that it worked! (Here is the longer story: http://www.mannersmith.com/about/credentials.cfm)
JAN: What is the biggest misconception people have about etiquette?
JODI: People think that having good manners means being stiff and plastic. But nothing could be further from the truth. When someone has good manners, we enjoy being around them. We say “Wow, that was great chatting with Jan.” (Not “That Jan had such pleasant manners.”) When someone has bad manners, such as chewing with his/her mouth open, that is all we notice.
JAN: What is the most asked question?
JODI: How long do I have to give a wedding gift? (The answer, on or before the wedding!!!)
JAN: Do you have a pet peeve in the bad manners department?
JODI: Oh, where to begin! Perhaps people who wield etiquette, when it is convenient, as a means of judging others. There is an ethics quote that applies nicely to etiquette. “We judge ourselves by our best intensions and others by their last worst act.”
JAN: And because I can't be the only person messed up about networking at conferences, could you please give us five top tips for networking.
1. Know Yourself ~ Always be prepared to give a self-introduction. Your name only gets you halfway there. You should also include a tidbit of information about yourself. It is this bit of information that will help you start a conversation or help the other person ask you a question. (i.e. "Hi, I am Jodi Smith, sister of the bride." "Nice to meet you, I am Jodi Smith from Boston." "Hello, I am Jodi Smith, I teach confidence.")
2. Be Prepared ~ Before going to any event, have a few back-up topics of conversation in mind should there be a lull in the conversation. There are many "typical topics" so be sure to choose ones that interest you. (i.e. current events, movies, plays, concerts, televisions shows, books, school/work, hobbies, family, travel, sports, pets, and when in doubt, there is always the weather!)
3. Catch The Ball ~ Think of a conversation as a game of catch. You throw the ball, hold on to it for a few seconds, then throw it back to the other person, who catches it, holds on to it for a few seconds, then throws it back to you again. Repeat. Good conversations involve give and take. If you find that you are not talking at all or that you are doing all the talking, something is off in your game.
4. Keep the Game Going I: Non Verbal ~ There are two ways to make sure your conversation continues to flow. The first is body language. Your body should face the other person, shoulders squared to theirs, open body stance (make sure your arms are not crossed and that your hands are not hidden in your pockets!), and good eye contact. In addition to body language, you should also be using listening cues. Listening cues might include nodding your head, or an occasional "um-hum."
5. Keep the Game Going II: Verbal ~ The second way to ensure your conversation flows is through the words you use. Be sure to ask open-ended questions -- these are questions that require at least a sentence as an answer. (i.e. "How do you know the host/hostess?", "What makes you say that?", "What was your favorite vacation?", "Tell me about...")
6. Practice, Practice, Practice ~ Like any other skill, small talk and conversations should be practiced. Whether it is the cashier at the local bagel store, the librarian, a fellow commuter, or someone also waiting in line, try having a brief conversation about the weather or current events. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel, and the better you will be at small talk. (Please note: manners matter, but safety first. Do not strike up conversations with strangers while alone, at night, or in a potentially dangerous situation!)
7. Smile ~ I know, I know, it seems so obvious, but good conversationalists are also good smilers. Let's face it; we would rather speak to someone who is smiling that with someone who is not.
(Or if you'd rather, just give us your top tips for networking at conferences and skip all other questions except how you get interested in etiquette.
JAN: What are you working on next?
JODI: An etiquette guide for young adults, updating all of my seminars, and playing with more social media options…
JAN: Ah, can't wait for that one. And to Jodi's excellent advice listed above, I will add what I learned from her at the BU event: Wear your name tag on your right, hold your drink with your left (to assure you have the open stance she mentions above and to easily shake hands.) Know your goal before you go to conference. Graciously end a conversation by asking for a business card, and whatever you do, don't trap anyone in an elevator and go for the hard sell. It's not about closing the deal, its 'll about the follow up.
And if you tend to overthink things the way I do, make sure to get her book.
Jodi will be checking in later on today to answer questions.