Now you're talking!

by Aldric Chau

Skills in networking and effective communication indispensable

Lawrence Cheng
media guru
Photo: Edde Ngan

Modern communications such as online chatting, email and text messaging are all designed to keep people connected around the clock. However, some experts question whether these tools have really brought people closer to one another and whether they are still equipped with basic face-to-face communication skills.

Communication is part of daily life, but it is important to remember that it is the intention behind communication that is paramount. At the fifth series of Career Times seminar on Marvellous Ways to Sell Yourself, two high-profile communication experts share professional insights and useful tips.

Principle guidelines

While people spend time networking on a daily basis, either with colleagues, potential customers or business partners, they often lose sight of whether their "nets" are really "working" for them, Paul Chan, principal consultant, Dale Carnegie Training, Hong Kong, told seminar-goers.

In order to get the best out the act of networking whether for career or business development, people usually try to gain something tangible from it, Mr Chan said, adding that by sticking to some good networking principles, the whole process can become more rewarding.

First and foremost, a warm and sincere smile is essential if you want others to be comfortable about approaching you, Mr Chan pointed out. "Networking begins the moment two people meet, and the expression on your face plays a major role in the other person's first impression of you," he said. "If you want to succeed, come prepared."

Before setting off for a social networking event, draw up some targets for yourself as to who you would like to meet and what you would like to achieve, he added. This is especially important at events where people are constantly coming and going and you may find yourself lost in a sea of guests.

It is also important to familiarise yourself with the profiles of the people you are hoping to meet. Not only is this respectful towards the other guests, but it also helps you to be armed with a number of conversations topics.

"Avoid sticking to people you already know," Mr Chan remarked. "The whole idea of networking is to expand your social circle. If you find it difficult to move away from an established group, pull some more people into the conversation before you excuse yourself to meet someone new."

Conversation techniques

Paul Chan, principal consultant
Dale Carnegie Training, Hong Kong
Photo: Edde Ngan
It is respectful to be focussed on the person you are speaking to. Listen attentively to what the other person is saying, rather than looking around for potential new contacts during the conversation. Treat your conversation partner as someone you are genuinely interested in.

Mr Chan noted that silence could sometimes be the best policy. While "dead air" doesn't help networking, focus on getting the other person to talk instead of dominating the conversation, otherwise you may give the impression of being self-centred. "By letting the other person talk, you also maximise your chances to gain useful information from your conversation partner," he said.

When the conversation runs out of steam, you need to keep the stone rolling as a survival technique. Mr Chan suggested that you combat awkward moments by conjuring up a picture in your mind of a name card and a building, with a businessman holding a suitcase in one hand and a flashing tennis racquet shaped like an aeroplane in the other. "The image should trigger a wide range of topics that you can raise — from the other person's job and industry to recent trips and sports. Using this pictographic method, you should find it easy to keep talking," he advised.

Although food and beverages are usually served at networking events, it is important not to overindulge, as this could get in the way of the real purpose of the function, Mr Chan cautioned.

Networking doesn't stop when the evening is over. "After the event, send emails to the people you have met to establish long-term relationships", Mr Chan suggested, adding that good networking cannot be achieved overnight.

Put the act together

People often find it extremely challenging to make a speech, follow up sales leads or even propose an idea, as these functions require well-developed communication skills.

Media guru Lawrence Cheng has worked in the entertainment industry for many years and has established an extensive network which comprises contacts from almost every industry. He told the audience about the importance of "soul-searching", not only before delivering a speech, but also before speaking to others on a daily basis.

He defined soul-searching as a way of establishing the ultimate purpose of the communication process. "If you want to address your team at work in order to build their morale, you must use a totally different manner and tone than if you are speaking to a staff member to terminate a contract of employment," Mr Cheng said. "A thorough understanding of what exactly you want to say will help make your speech more animated."

For effective communication, you should know what you want to say before you start, know what you are saying while you are talking, and be conscious of what you have had said after you have finished speaking, Mr Cheng told the seminar-goers. "Without thorough soul searching, this would be hard to achieve," he added.

Follow the rules

Mr Cheng also elaborated on his four "golden rules" for effective communication, explaining that, in the first instance, a good introduction and conclusion are crucial. When communicating with someone on a very tight schedule, your first sentence may determine whether you will succeed. He therefore advised starting every conversation with an attention-grabbing introduction. When you have to ask for something, try starting the conversation with a phrase such as "good news!" instead of jumping straight into your request. The results may surprise you.

His second golden rule is to learn to be an "actor". In order to communicate effectively, you need to do more than simply presenting facts. Apart from the content of your speech or conversation, non-verbal elements such as tone, rhythm and emotion are important. When communicating, be emotive and expressive. "These are effective tools to convince your audience," Mr Cheng noted.

Thirdly, make your message precise and concise. He continued, "We are living in a two-minute world — the first minute to let people know about you and the second to buy you."

He recalled the first time he proposed a "treatment" to a filmmaker, who was unimpressed with his long presentation. It took some practice to understand that he needed to keep his address brief and to the point.

He suggested that the audience get into the habit of writing down their thoughts, and then editing their own writing. "By writing 500 words, then cutting it to 300, and again to 50, you will master the technique of concentrating only on the most exciting point you want to get across," he explained.

The writing part is important, as it involves a mental process of editing information before sending it out, he added.

Mr Cheng's fourth golden rule revolves around personality. If you want to stand out in a crowd, you have to make an impression. One way of doing this is by reading extensively. Keeping up with current affairs and reading books build knowledge and character, making it easier to impress an audience, he said. "We are what we read," he emphasised, suggesting that seminar-goers make a list of the newspapers, magazines and other reading matter that they got through in the previous week, as this would help them find out more about themselves.

People close to you — parents, friends or partners — can also act as "mirrors", reflecting your true self, he remarked.

The audience left with one conclusive message: implementing small changes to the way you read, think and plan before you speak can make a substantial difference when it comes to effective communication. Efficient networking can also substantially increase your social circle, which can end up being a lot more useful than making one more Facebook friend.

Take the RISK

  • Reciprocity — you give, you get; you don't give, you don't get
  • Interdependency — you depend on people met during networking as much as they depend on you
  • Sharing — relationships built during networking can be regarded as a commodity to share
  • Keeping — Keep in touch with people you meet, you never know when a relationship will become useful
Golden rules

  • 1. Start conversations with attention-grabbers
  • 2. Learn to be an actor
  • 3. Write down and edit your thoughts
  • 4. You are what you read

Taken from Career Times 30 May 2008, p. C12
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