Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Etiquette of Social Networking

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:

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.


  1. Such great advice. And such necessary advice, especially for women of a certain age. We were not taught some of these things, the kinds of manners and behaviors that affect us in business.

    When my oldest daughter was in high school and dating, her little sisters were 4 and 1. One of her boyfriends held great promise as a future mover and shaker, and he taught the four-year old how to shake hands properly. It would never have occurred to me, even as a businesswoman, to teach my daughters that valuable skill, but from that day on they all knew.

    Shaking hands is an art, and in a business situation it is a crucial first impression tactic. Limp fingers give a very different impression than a good, firm, palm-to-palm contact. I would practice with someone before going to a conference, and get an evaluation of what your handshake says about you, and tips to correct it.

    The other thing is eye contact. Some of us are so much better at keeping our eyes from wandering than others.

  2. You are so right about the handshake Karen, Jodi had ALL of us practice it at the BU event. Webbing to webbing was the way I think she described it.


  3. Karen ~ Thank you! Yes, women of a certain age were not taught the business handshake. But luckily etiquette evolves and now women are expected to shake hands with men. (We are gender neutral in the working is all about rank!) Warmly ~ Jodi

  4. Thanks Karen and Jan! I, too, sometimes find myself flummoxed in the meet-and-greet department.

  5. Thank you thank you, oh, how I LOATHE chit chat, and I am terrified every time.

    This is so terrific! And I love the idea of giving the person a helphing bit of info. Check.

    JOdi--can you give us some advice on how to end a conversation? I;'e said in the past "I've promised myself I will MINGLE! SO I'm going to do that...." Any other graceful exit lines?

    thank yoo!

  6. Wow! Jan, I'm with you in thinking this was a valuable event for the BU students that most schools don't offer. When I ran a university women's center, I tried to get the college to offer some of these non-academic career survival skills. when they wouldn't, I set up a leadership academy for women that did--and all the male students wanted to come to it.

    And how handy for us--right before Malice.

    I know my biggest problem is eye contact. Among the more traditional Cherokee, it's an offense, like pointing a finger. Learned that from my grandmother when young, and I still must watch myself constantly. My son even picked it up from me without my telling him anything about it.

  7. Thanks Linda,

    Wow, you have had a varied career. Interesting, the cultural histories/norms that affect us.

    Hank, I am having a REALLY hard time imagining you as tongue-tied - you are my networking model!

    But then, I'm sure people who see me at conferences, don't realize how limited I feel.

    So interesting the differences between our thoughts and our persons.


  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. THAT WAS PERSONNA and I SWEAR I typed it and it self-corrected, but maybe I've been traumatized by my I-PHONE and am imagining it. (or giving myself excuses)

  10. Don't fret, Jan! We love you, even if your phone's auto-correct doesn't.

  11. Nametag on the right? And here I thought it was supposed to go on the left to be more easily seen! (And at cons with hanging tags, well, they can be a bit tricky to adjust ... .)

    Thanks for the great info, Jodi.

  12. Hank ~ So nice to hear from you! Yes, the exit line is just as important as the opening line. My pet peeve is "excuse me, there is someone over there I need to meet/see." How horrid! What a great way to make the person you are speaking with feel about 2 inches tall. Instead, a simple and sincere "I am so glad we had a chance to speak" works wonders. Warmly ~ Jodi

  13. Linda ~ Yes, eye contact is VERY culturally specific. I teach the eye contact triangle (anywhere between the eyebrows and the middle of the upper lip). If you gaze in that triangle it looks like you are making eye contact without needing to stare into someone's pupils. Warmly ~ Jodi

  14. OH, Jodi! Brilliant! Thank you...

    And thanks, too, for the triangle secret.

    (Jan--:-) I think you're so correct about how others see would probaby be quite a revelation to find out!)

  15. I was taught to wear my nametag (unless it's hanging in the middle) on the right, so when shaking hands the right arm is extended towards the person being greeted, and that shoulder also advances. That way, one's name is more prominent.

    I also make sure my name is VERY legible, and that the nametag is nowhere near my breasts, especially if the group is more predominately male. I detest having someone lean over to peer at my boobs on the pretext of trying to see my name. This evinces much (usually mental) eye-rolling on my part.

    Someone needs to teach men to look at some different kind of "triangle". Yes, we need to be gender neutral, but there are, after all, two major genders, and they are majorly different. :-)

  16. I loved the part at the BU event, where Jodi warned never leave someone saying: Oh excuse me, I have to go the bar - or they might ask you to get them a drink at the bar and then, not only have you not moved on, you've become a waitress!


    Also, if you end by saying "nice speaking to you," instead of "nice meeting you," you avoid the potential faux pas of saying this when you've already met them once and forgotten it.

  17. I forgot to mention Jodi that one of the students that I met at the event, followed your FOLLOW UP advice/rules, and contacted me by email afterward. I rewarded her by giving her three leads on who to contact for a journalism job.

    (hope they work out)


  18. Lots of good tips! I'm at a conference now and it's interesting to see just how many people smile back if you yourself are smiling!

  19. Karen,
    You are right on track, nametags always on the right. Our eyes track from our hand, to their hand, up the line of the arm, to the shoulder (nametag) and then the face. And I do speak very frankly with men about where they should and should not look. Of course, if a woman is wearing a uber tight, low cut top, then she is advertising and he can glance. If she is not dressed like a hooker, then his eyes should be up. Warmly ~ Jodi

  20. Jan ~ Loved that a student followed up with you AND that you were able to help. Fabulous! ~ Jodi

  21. Rosemary ~ Sam Wall trained his employees to smile first. This is great advice for a conference...not so much when you are walking in an unfamiliar city alone after dark. Warmly ~ Jodi

  22. I'm late to the conversation, and what a good conversation it is!

    One of my problems is that I go blank--a deer in the headlights kind of thing. This is especially true at writers conferences when talking to well-known writers. I have a hard time relating to these authors as regular people. I become a gibbering fangirl...What to do about that?

    Also, I'm such an introvert that after awhile my brain shuts off. I nod and smile, but find I have nothing to say in response. Any hints especially tailored for introverts?


  23. Lisa ~ Great questions. First and foremost you should know that I am a shy-gal. As in, did not even go to the prom shy. I could write a ton for shy people (oh wait! I did!). In my most recent book, all of chapter 11 is devoted to exactly this.
    The biggest hint is to have a plan in advance. Think about what you would say to someone you admire. I find that specifics are helpful. So instead of crazy-fan "I so LOVE your books!" try something such as "I was so sure the butler did it, you had me totally fooled until he had a cup of tea in chapter 13, where did your inspiration for that twist come from?"
    Then, after you have chit-chatted for a moment or two longer, get out! Leave the conversation before you withdraw and become a bobble-head. "I am so glad we were able to speak. Thank you" closing handshake and move along. Does that help? ~ Jodi

  24. Thanks for the Triangle Trick. I'm shy, too. I've had my train of thought jump the tracks if eye contact locks "just right." Especially if I'm tired.

  25. Jodi, thanks for the triangle trick. It's funny. among many cultures, especially indigenous ones, sustained direct eye contact is rude or threatening. Among the Anglo-European cultures, to avoid direct eye contact is shifty, a sign of dishonesty and deceit.

    Good post today, Jan!

  26. Linda ~ When I work with International clients, I speak at length about body language, eye contact and asking questions. So many cultures see asking questions as rude (it implies the speaker did not explain him/herself well enough). But here in the USA, to not ask questions - especially in a job interview - will be held against you. It is not that one is right and one is wrong, it is just culturally specific and we should all be aware of the differences. Warmly ~ Jodi

  27. Thank you to everyone for your comments and questions! if there is anything else, please do feel free to ask me directly on

    Jan ~ It was a pleasure! ~ Jodi

  28. Thanks Jodi for being a wonderful guest!

  29. I know I am too late. I just want to say that I love the "catch the ball" metaphor. I practiced a little today on the paratransit van-- not so intimidating. Hand shaking is hard for me, but I do give it a try. People seem to understand, but I like to do what is generally expected.

  30. LISA ALBER is having computer problems..sigh. She asked me to post this--because she says, it's the polite thing to do!

    "Oooh, that’s great! Thanks for providing a great example. That makes total sense. Advanced planning seems to be the key!"

  31. Linda... oh yes on the eye contact cultural thingy. It feels awful being "stared at" as well. Intrusive?

    Jan- really sorry I missed the last two days here.

  32. Reine,
    Great to have you back!

    Sorry you missed Jodi -