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Networking in 3 Words or Less

Are you a networking hater?

If you are like the majority of the population, “networking” feels a lot like public speaking. Despite 30-second elevator pitch training, people seem to have a natural fear of networking. It’s something like taking our medicine – we know it will help but we don’t really like it.

At networking events, participants generally greet each other in brief exchanges that occur during a set period of time. During this time, they share professional backgrounds and business goals hoping to grow their businesses and/or make connections.

While I have been to events where meaningful connections have been made, I have also been in situations where this does not happen. In these situations, I find myself on the other end of a mailing list rather than having made a real connection.

Has this scenario ever happened to you? You go to a meeting and are given the opportunity to network for the first 15 minutes. You find yourself looking for an opening, poking in to conversations, and/or drifting around with the friend that came with you. You get stuck in a few conversations that go on a little too long. You meet a few people who seem promising. You are grateful when the scheduled agenda begins. You feel victorious to have collected 10 business cards.

What is it that we really want from our networking events? I think we want more than another name for our newsletters. We want to know if the person on the other end of the handshake and the 30-second elevator pitch is someone with whom we want to do business. While a new acquaintance is expressing “what they do,” we listen for and make assessments about “who they are.” We want to know the “why” behind their work. We are looking for synergy and trust.

What if our networking pitches were limited to three words or less? Communications research suggests that we form impressions of others in ten seconds or less. (That’s faster than most elevator pitches.) If you had to limit it, what are the three most important words for you? What do you want/need people to know?

See where this activity takes you.

Give a one word in response to each of the following questions:

  • Who are you?

  • What do you do?

  • Why do you do it?

Now expand your responses to three words for each question.

Bring this activity to your next networking meeting. If you are facilitating the activity, you can offer a little more explanation to the questions – or focus them in some other way. For example, “who are you” may be reworded to something more specific like “what’s your philosophy of business?” By the same token, “what do you do?” might become “what are you passionate about?”

The “three words or less” activity is speed dating at its business best. Let the simplicity of the results inspire you to communicate about your work in a new ways. Let it bring focus to some of your unique gifts, philosophies and priorities. Utilize the activity to freshen your elevator pitch or re-examine your organizational priorities. A few key words may inspire a different conversation.

Here’s another twist that takes us to the other side of the communication spectrum….

What if we had the opportunity to tell the stories that are at the heart of our businesses? I attended a story-telling conference this past weekend and was delighted that the introductory “networking” question evolved into “what’s your story?” Surprisingly, this question didn’t necessarily take more time to answer.

I saw evidence of relief on people’s faces as they were given permission to ask this new and refreshing question. There generally was a pause before answering and although a number of people still responded with what they did, it gave a new focus to the exchange. What a relief it was to hear a new angle to the elevator pitch.

For those of us who are organizers of networking events, it’s important to remember that bringing people together is just the beginning. There is so much we can do to foster meaningful conversations for our participants. Vision is everything. If you hope for more than the routine delivery of one-sided exchanges, then be sure to tell your participants – they are likely to be refreshed by the idea. Your creative efforts on the front end will increase collaborative impact and expand our ability to hear, and speak, with a new ear.

The 30-second elevator pitch is a thing of the past. In this age of sound bites, people want to know more – and less. They need to know what you do. They seek information about who you are. Most importantly, they want to know why you do what you do.

An elevator pitch once made is not forever set. At least it shouldn’t be.

“Three words or less” brings focus to the story. The story is the interesting part.

Let it fuel your work.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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