Shana’s Crash Course in Networking 101

The Stimulant: Last Sunday, I called up a young friend of mine who is staying for the summer in Chicagoland, USA. Her name is Shana Siap, a very talented 16-year old performing artist from Cebu City, Philippines. Her mom and dad had met at my bakeshop-café, fell in love with each other, and of course, thanked me for my matchmaking (a.k.a. networking) skills at that time.

Shana’s case was not unique. She had just started “home schooling” under her mother’s guidance. Thus, Shana could pursue commercial pursuits around her flexible school schedule. I realized that my young courageous friend needed some direction in the accepted business practices of networking. My definition of “Networking” is “the art of building rapport with strangers who aren’t your friends yet — and taking it step by step until you build a personal or professional relationship.”

Bernardo Bernardo, the US-based acting coach and entertainer, had already agreed to give Shana and her mother an informational interview during his upcoming trip to Chicago. Therefore, it was my job to make sure that Shana was prepared for this interview. Her charmed work life needed a crash course in Networking 101.

The Starting Point: Before Shana could start networking, I gave her some homework. She had to prepare her portfolio book. After we discussed the book’s contents — from business cards, press releases and reviews about her performances, testimonials, sample CD’s of her songs, to videotapes — we centered our attention to the basics. The following is a synopsis of my talk with Shana.

Networking is about “You, Me, And We.” You will be meeting many new friends this summer. Let’s suppose that you’re attending a birthday party. You’re standing at a corner when you notice that there’s a woman in her mid-20’s standing a few feet away from you, observing the festivities. Act like a host. Approach the lady and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m Shana — and your name is?” Try to figure out, after her initial response, if she wants to be left alone or if she wants to make a new friend. Offer a handshake. Test the potential waters of friendship. “I really enjoyed that pasta dish over there. Did you get to try it?” You’ll know if it’s time to move on politely with “It was nice meeting you, Anne. I see someone I need to talk to.” Then, shake hands and move on.

When you meet someone, that’s the “you” part. You’d like to know more about the other person. Allot 10 to 15 minutes for every new friend.

Start with “What is your relationship to the birthday celebrant?” After some rapport-building questions, state your agenda. “I’m into learning new things so if it’s o.k. with you, may I ask what it is that you do for a living?” Listen attentively. Then, ask probing open-ended questions similar to the following:

“What is your typical customer like?”
“What’s a typical day at the office like for you?”
“What does it take to get to where you are today?”

You’ll notice if the person is interested in getting to know you as well. That’s the “Me” factor. She would shift the attention to you with something like “I want to know about you, too.” Be prepared with your one-sentence personal statement. Reply with “While I’m doing home schooling, I’m looking for someone who might want to hire me as a performing artist or host for events geared toward kids or young adults.”

If she has a lead for you, be proactive. This is the “We” factor. “Maybe you and I can help your friend. Would you introduce me to her or would you prefer that I call her and let her know that you referred me to her?”

Do remember to give her a couple of your business cards. “This one is for you to keep. Don’t keep me a secret. Please give this other card to a friend we could help.”

Close with “I really would like to continue this conversation with you. You’ve opened my eyes to new perspectives. May I call you for a longer talk? What’s the best time to reach you? Or, maybe we could get together for lunch next week with my mom. What day is best for you?” And so on.

When you get home, write a thank you card. I prefer blue ink. It feels friendlier. Always handwrite your cards and envelopes. Your new friend will understand that you do understand the disappearing art of letter-writing because of all the electronic communications we use nowadays.

You’re off to a good start in the next phase of building your career, Shana. Break a leg!

© Lorna Dietz, June 2003z. Published by Manila Bulletin USA.




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