The world seems to be in the middle of a fitness craze! To capitalize on the fitness theme, this month's article will focus on what you can do to exercise your networking skills. I've put together a series of exercises you can consider to be networking aerobics. Diligent practice of these exercises will pay off in a healthy networking ability and improved contacts that will lead to contracts.
1. Leg lifts: Rise from the chair, couch, recliner or car seat where you usually sit and get to a networking event. As we develop technology more and more as a business tool, it might be tempting to indulge in "cocooning" and get roped into staying in your business locale. This isn't the best way to expand your business, much less develop a healthy word-of-mouth base. But if you're reading this article, you already know that and are looking for more.
2. Arm extensions: Extend your right hand from the shoulder to reach for the hand of any new contacts you meet. Shaking hands is an important part of making a new contact. Not extending the hand of friendship can be perceived negatively. It sets you apart as being aloof and cold. There are all kinds of things that have been written about the right way to shake the hand of a new contact: the two-handed shake, the elbow hold and so on. Just be courteous and warm, and I'm sure however you shake hands you'll make a good impression, as long as you aren't the dead-fish-shaker type!
3. Jaw flex (to follow immediately after arm extensions): Let the new contacts know succinctly who you are and what you do. Make sure to be specific and provide a benefit statement about your services. Don't forget that a good networker has two ears and one mouth and should use both of them proportionately-so give the jaw a little break.
4. The splits: Now that you're getting warmed up, move into the splits. As you see groups of two or three, notice if they are "open" twos and threes or "closed" twos and threes. The open twos and threes will have a gap between the individuals, almost inviting another person to join with them. The closed twos and threes will be completely self-absorbed and wouldn't be the first place to start practicing the splits. If you feel uncomfortable doing the splits on your own, ask the person hosting the event, or perhaps the individual who invited you to attend, to come around with you and introduce you to clusters of people.
5. Drop and carry: Ask for your new contacts' business cards. Drop them into your left pocket and carry them back to your office. I usually carry my own business cards in my right pocket and use the left pocket to carry the new contacts' cards. This habit can spare you the embarrassment of reaching into your pocket for your card and coming up with someone else's card!
Prior to dropping the contacts' cards in your pockets, jot a note of some kind on the back of their cards. You might make a note that will help jog your memory about them, or you might realize you have an article in your files or a contact to send their way. It's important that the new contacts see you making a note on their cards. This sends the message that you're planning to keep their information and refer back to it later.
When exchanging cards with someone, I always like to write something on the front of my own card before handing it to them-perhaps my cell phone number or something else to personalize the card. Research on retention of business cards has shown that people are less likely to throw away a card that has personal information handwritten on the front. I always give a couple of my cards to each contact, requesting that if he or she knows anyone who might be able to use my products, to please pass on the extra card.
6. Arm curls: Reach down to the telephone receiver, lift it off the cradle and curl it toward your head as you bring it to your ear. Follow up your networking event with personal contact. For the purpose of networking aerobics, we've used the example of the phone. You might wish to follow up via e-mail or by sending note cards-just do something to put you back in the new contacts' minds.
7. Cool down: Everyone knows that to avoid injury after working out, you need to cool down and gently let your heart return to its resting rate. After attending a networking event, you need to do a cool-down exercise as well. We recommend recording the event's contacts in a journal format or utilizing an event form, such as the one in Business by Referral, a book I co-authored with Robert Davis.
There are also computer programs you can purchase which will allow you to record the results of the networking event. Referring back to the documentation from the exercises you did at the event will help you cultivate the contacts into a bumper crop of referral business.
As you attend various networking events to promote your businesses, keep these exercises in mind and remember: no pain, no gain! You've got to put yourself out there in order to develop a word-of-mouth-based business.
Dr. Ivan Misner is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world's largest business networking organization, which has more than 4,600 chapters in 37 countries. Dr. Misner is also the author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller TRUTH OR DELUSION? (www.truthordelusion.com), and he is the Senior Partner for the Referral Institute (www.referralinstitute.com), a referral training company with operations around the world.