In my work, I help professionals develop their networking and career management skills. I’m often asked for the best way to network effectively. This is a huge topic and not easily covered within the scope of a short article. However, there is one area where all networkers can focus in order to improve.
That area is communication.
When interacting with other people in a networking context, you need to be able to communicate quickly and clearly who you are and what it is you do. Or, in the case of career development, what it is you want to do.
Here’s a quick experiment you can try next time you are with a friend, family member or work colleague.
You first need to think of a familiar melody. It can be anything – top 40, nursery rhyme, classical, whatever.
Then, in the presence of your friend, tap out the rhythm of the song. No singing, no humming, just tapping. As you do this, your friend has to guess the title of the song.
As straightforward as this may seem, this can turn out to be quite a challenging communication exercise. When formal research was conducted at Stanford University, scientists first asked people to estimate whether the song would be named correctly.
Participants generally thought this would be easy. They predicted that a correct guess would be made more than 50% of the time. However, it turned out that only 2.5% of people guessed accurately.
So what’s going on here? Surely it shouldn’t be so difficult to complete this simple task?
The answer lies in our human tendencies. On the whole, we are an overconfident bunch.
And we could say there might be good evolutionary reasons for this. If we didn’t believe that we could fight the sabre-tooth tiger and win, we might just as well sit at the back of the cave and shiver!
This overconfidence also applies to communication. In the tapping exercise, we hear the song in our heads and find it hard to believe the other person can’t hear it in the same way.
So what has this got to do with career management and developing people networks?
Whether you are writing your LinkedIn profile or engaging with a new contact at a networking event, you need to have a quick and catchy reply to the question: “…and what do you do?” It’s then imperative that you have a second version to emphasise the communication, followed by a third to really ensure the message is embedded.
This point is highlighted by the story of the UK TV executive involved in the production of ITV’s flagship News at Ten programme.
Their professional take on communication was that it was ‘all about the bongs’. They referred to this in chunks of five seconds, 15 seconds and 60 seconds. Their advice goes like this…
The first five seconds of a news item is the chime (or bong!), acting as an attention grabber, followed by a short headline. The next 15 seconds is a headline repeat but varied and extended slightly. The final 60-second slot, sometimes slightly longer, is a headline re-repeat and the story in detail.
This approach guarantees that the content and flavour of the story catches the attention and comes across clearly to the TV audience.
Similarly, your introduction to a new contact needs the same gradual iterations, each one building upon the former. It can’t be assumed that one simple line will make its mark and achieve the impact you really need.
This process will also allow your contact to make better sense of who you are, what you do and what you want to do. All of this aids memorability.
In the words of networking guru Andy Lopata, if you want someone to remember you, you need to be in their head – not just in their address book.