I was speaking with my editor (yes, I answer to a higher power) about possible topics for the GET blog and we arrived at a topic that should be serialized into multiple entries. So here it is, part one.
About a year ago I began my internship with JPMorgan Chase. Once the dust settled I began to network with my fellow interns and I realized that very few of us understood the power and necessity of networking on a professional level.
The art of networking, much like the art of selling, requires a few things. One must understand their goals and their audience. One must also understand themselves and their ability to adapt and flow within a given situation or set of circumstances. In short, you have to know what you want and be prepared to ask for it with confidence and sell your ideas with vigor.
We’ve probably all heard of the “elevator pitch”. In this scenario we have a hypothetical and ever-looming yet seemingly non-existent opportunity to meet that one person who can make a difference in our lives. This opportunity allegedly happens by chance and lasts about 10-30 seconds. The question is if this opportunity knocked, could you get to the door in time to answer?
Most of us have to answer the question with an honest and defeated “no”. After you read this article I’m hoping that you will confidently change that to a “yes”.
The aforementioned guide is two paragraphs away. The examples I used are in a corporate environment that focuses on meetings as the setting. They can be easily adapted to just about any situation so they should be useful in almost any setting.
After the guide I’ve got a real-world example of how this has worked for me, so please stick around. I promise to make it worth your time.
Map out the purpose of your meeting prior to making contact with your audience. Understanding what you wish to accomplish will help you better understand how to arrive at your goal. Having your desired goals clear in your mind will also help you to steer the meeting towards your desired destination. Taking this step will prevent you from getting off topic during your meeting and will help you to identify when the person or people you are speaking with have gone off topic. Be prepared to cover the most important points of your topic during the meeting but not necessarily in order. Be adaptive and loose; flow through the conversation rather than attempting to enforce a strict agenda.
You may find that the person that you are speaking with has little time, interest or patience for you or your topic of choice. Do not take this personally. Your audience may be goal-driven and only interested in the bottom line or they may be detail-oriented and require that you paint a broad picture of your ideas before they will tune you in. Regardless of the situation, it is important that you listen for opportunities to provide your audience with information that illustrates who you are, your importance to the company; your role in the current task, and your goals and action plans.
An ability to illustrate understanding of the topic at hand and to convey personal experience is equally as imperative as conveying seemingly unimportant personal details, such as age, background, and life experiences. Providing these details can mean the difference between an unproductive 10 minute conversation and a dialogue that goes on for 30 minutes in which you build rapport and gain a valued contact.
Allowing your audience to set the tone of the conversation is important to establish the appropriate level of professionalism. This can be tricky to accomplish. You should match or exceed the level of professionalism being portrayed by the person that you are speaking with. The best practice is to assume a level of professionalism befitting a high level person within the organization. It is important to remember that in the case of professionalism “Do as I say, not as I do” comes into play. Adopting the tone of someone who has poor professionalism or who has earned the right to appear a bit more lax is not a good habit to start or continue with. Maintain self-respect and self-confidence and you will find that these traits will reflect in your language and messages to others as well.
The ultimate goal of any meeting is to address ideas and to get your point across. Discuss your ideas and then stop talking. Do not over-sell and do not prevent your audience from having time to absorb your message. You cannot listen without being silent. Remember that you are selling your ideas with yourself as the package containing them. Envision your message as a product that devastates the competition and creates desire within your target audience. The most important thing I learned in sales was to be confident and knowledgeable. If you know your product and yourself better than anyone else, your ideas will sell, regardless of the adversary or adversity that you may encounter.
As promised, here is a real-world application:
I became interested in Mobile Device Management (MDM) a while back and began investigating the potential and application of this program at JPMorgan Chase (the firm). By this time I had a whole month and a half of time on the books as an intern and zero street credit.
Armed with my interest and research, I placed a call to someone a lot higher up on the food chain than I was so that I could find out what the firm was doing with MDM. I could tell immediately that my phone call was going to be short. The person I was talking to was polite but disinterested and clearly had enough time scheduled mentally to answer my questions and get me off the phone.
If I wanted results I needed to sell myself before I could begin selling my idea. I began mentioning personal information, specifically my time in U.S. Naval intelligence, as an illustration of why I found security in general to be important. This tactic falls under the “Listen for opportunity” section of my guide and it worked beautifully.
The man I was speaking with had been an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force at the same time that I was enlisted. We knew the same lingo and locations, and we were part of a larger family of people who signed on the line to put their country first. I had an in. Rank and responsibility became irrelevant and the topic at hand became a conversation with equal parts give and take, research and interest.
Because I recognized that my agenda was not aligned with the agenda of my contact, I was able to shift the focus of conversation to why I felt the topic was important, and why I was someone with more than an academic interest in MDM. I had to become a tangible person that my contact would be sympathetic to. I knew that the man I was speaking to was responsible for some of the security protocols at our firm and I believed that if I could illustrate an understanding of security to him that he would give me more of his time and assistance.
In this case I was more right than I knew. In other cases, my plan may have worked in part and if that were to have happened I could have maintained control of the situation by becoming sympathetic to my contact. This could be achieved by asking open-ended empathetic questions that pertain to your contact’s interest and investment in the given topic. Armed with this information, you can adapt your approach to cater to the attitude of your contact and gain more valuable information while retaining his or her interest in you and your topic.
I learned a lot about MDM, Application Security, and the programs that governed both at our firm. This was my goal initially and I had accomplished it. I had also managed to earn a valuable contact at the firm who put me in touch with a group of other people that I could network with for more information.
I hope that you found this article useful and that it inspires you to focus on what you want so that you can learn how to better obtain it.
I’ll leave you with something that my Dad has taught me, and that is to challenge everything that you know, that you think you know, and that others claim to know. I don’t mean that you should disbelieve everything or doubt yourself. What I mean is that you should take what others have given you and make it your own through examination and thought. If you find a new way for it to work, share it with others so that we can all build upon it together.
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you next time.
Tell us your thoughts in the comments section!
Jeff Walling is a senior at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Jeff is an avid social engineer, expert salesman, grand master-badger wrangler, and a snowboarding enthusiast. You can’t fact-check Jeff’s background because he doesn’t subscribe to social networking sites but he thinks that in this case, it is more fun to guess anyway.