In This Issue:
“It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Much of your success in graduate school is based on what you know, however it’s important not to minimize the value of who you know. Although the old cliché isn’t entirely true, it is true that achieving success in graduate school and other areas of life is built largely on your ability to effectively network with others in your field.
Dr. Kevin Brown founder and CEO of Lorenz Research Associates, Inc recently presented a workshop on the “Art of Business Speaking” at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation, and felt that more students could benefit from what he had to say, so I arranged an interview with him. He provided me with many concrete examples of what students can do when they want to meet someone they don’t know.
I hope you enjoy the wisdom of what he had to offer as much as I did!
WYC: How would you describe “The Art of Networking?” What are the main principles of which graduate students should be aware?
Dr. Brown: When you meet someone, you have to keep three things in mind:
1) You should always know what you want from the encounter.
2) You should always be yourself; and
3) You have to be honest with yourself.
WYC: What do you mean by being honest with yourself?
Dr. Brown: When you confront or encounter someone, you don’t want to do something that is out of character, or because someone else wants you to do it. You have to be you.
There are two sides to every encounter: yours and the other person’s. Before leaving the house (to go to a conference, meeting, or encounter with another person), you have to think about why you are going there, and what you want to get out of any interactions that take place there. Similarly, before you attend a conference or a talk, you should also know who’s going to be there and why THEY are there (i.e., what THEY are getting out of it).
You do the same thing that you do in your day-to-day interactions with co-workers or other people you meet. You have to be honest with yourself and make every interaction count. Make every interaction have a purpose.
WYC: What is the most important aspect that graduate students should focus on in order to be successful in making a memorable connection/impression?
Dr. Brown: Making a memorable impression is difficult if you are trying to do it intentionally, especially with anyone who feels they are more notable than you. You have to approach someone from a human point of view. That said, your approach needs to be modest and polite. What you discuss with this person should be notable and meaningful. Talk about something that matters; use something for which the person is noted.
Talking about something of substance is a way for you to be humanly connected to that person.
WYC: Is there a difference between small talk and trivial talk like the weather?
Dr. Brown: Even in small talk, part of the conversation can be meaningful. If you really don’t have anything to say to that person at first, you can use small talk to connect to them on a human level. As the discussion becomes more meaningful, it becomes the essence of why you are there.
Small talk can help you begin with:
• A reason why you want to talk to this person
• An idea of what you want to exchange;
• Something positive if nothing more than exchanging ideas.
Small talk is investing time in conversation with one another. You make it memorable by just investing your time. For example, when you met me what did you say?
WYC: “Hi, I’m Dr. Wendy Carter and I really enjoyed your talk. I see that you have a lot to offer graduate students. I write a monthly newsletter for graduate students, and I would like to interview you for my upcoming issue.”
Dr. Brown: See; you did everything that you were supposed to do. You introduced yourself and you had a purpose for the encounter. We cemented the deal with the exchange of business cards, and I remembered you when you called for the interview.
WYC: How important is having a business card to exchange with a potential contact? Should graduate students have business cards?
Dr. Brown: Of course they should! Once upon a time, business cards used to be exclusive to business people … but now everyone uses them to cement the encounter. They are relatively inexpensive; you can even print them up on your printer in black or white.
Use business cards to cement anything that you agreed upon. At the end of the conversation, present your business card and affirm the point of the conversation. Business cards provide a point of contact between two people; it’s always better to have a business card than to have to fish around in your bag or pocket to try to come up with a pen and a piece of paper. Be sure to give your business card to the other person with both hands, one on top of the other.
WYC: Should you write on the back of the card where you met this person?
Dr. Brown: After the person has walked away, take a moment to reflect on the encounter before you move onto the next encounter. Even if it is just for five seconds, recount what happened, what he/she said, and what you said. Mentally recall what and how the person looked when he/she took the time to cement the encounter. Keep that in mind and keep that contact. You can write in down if you have to, but be sure to do it before you move on to the next person.
WYC: Do you contact them right away or months later? Sometimes you have a card and you don’t remember who the person was.
Dr. Brown: Remember: you should always know what it is that you want from the encounter, and that isn’t just to get a card. So the first thing you should do when you get back is to compose an email saying, “It was nice to have met you” and to reaffirm whatever it is you agreed upon. That lets the person know that you were genuine in your encounter. You need to send that note/email right away. People respect that. Then you can file the card away.
WYC: What non-verbal communications should students should pay attention to?
Dr. Brown: Non-verbal communication is a little bit more difficult. You have to be patient enough to pay attention and be observant of others and yourself. I think everyone knows whether or not someone is pleased to make an investment of his or her time.
WYC: Does it matter how you dress?
Dr. Brown: Make sure you are presenting a good image of yourself with a firm handshake, eye contact and good posture. Make that person believe that they are the only person in the room!
I think your dress should be neat and modest. As a graduate student, when I went to a conference I always took a suit for my presentations and evening events.
WYC: What about social distance and personal space?
Dr. Brown: You should always respect people’s personal space. Some westerners require more space than other cultures. You should default to greater personal space over less space. Don’t run the risk of moving to a space that is not comfortable. Generally, you can tell people’s intentions when they approach you.
WYC: Does gender matter?
Dr. Brown: If you are modest in your approach and you allow people the personal space to which they are accustomed, then gender doesn’t matter.
WYC: What if people misinterpret your approach?
Dr. Brown: Be mindful of your modest approach and aware of your own behavior. Nevertheless, there will be times when people may want to have a non-professional encounter, and you have the right to move away from that encounter … especially those that make you uncomfortable.There are two things that you can do in an uncomfortable situation
• Increase the space between you and the person and keep the conversation on point.
• If you can’t maintain the focus of the conversation, then you can exit that encounter.
You can still leave by telling the person that you appreciate the encounter. And just because a person gives you their business card does not mean that YOU have to give them yours. Extend your hand for a handshake, look the person in the eye and move smartly on.
It’s still important to take five seconds to think about the encounter and what you wanted from it. You should make this mental assessment of the situation even if you throw the card away.
WYC: At a professional conference, what is a good ice-breaker to get to know an expert in your field? Should you ask for his or her paper?
Dr. Brown: After a presentation, it’s more important to tell them WHY you enjoyed their talk. Find something specific in the talk to ask them about. An ice breaker is more valuable if you have something meaningful to say.
Show initial interest (in the person, or what the person has to say), not just in getting the paper. Not everyone is presenting a paper at a conference. For example, someone might have been able to secure funding from a prestigious organization for a particular type of research … and securing it was quite an accomplishment. Though you might be interested in another type of research, you may still want to know how to secure the same type of funding from a similar source. If a person is presenting a paper, you might want to discuss the contribution that the paper made, its methodology, etc.
If you genuinely want a copy of the paper, by all means ask for a copy … but if you are just asking because you want an introduction, then that’s dishonest. You have to maintain a degree of honesty and integrity in whatever you do.
WYC: Is there anything else you think graduate students should know?
Dr. Brown: People tend to have an honesty and comfort “detector.” As researchers, one of the things we have to be comfortable with is talking about our work (e.g., our research). Small talk is easier if you are comfortable talking about what you are doing.
WYC: Should students practice?
Dr. Brown: You derive comfort by discussing your work, so that is exactly what you have to do to become more comfortable. Remember that the encounter is not about you; it is about what you want to get out of the encounter. Once you become comfortable with your topic and yourself, you will become more comfortable with small talk.
WYC: What if you’re shy?
Dr. Brown: I think that there are an even number of introverts and extroverts who are pursuing PhDs. As a matter of fact, it would be difficult to do a PhD if you didn’t like solace; you have to do work at the exclusion of social interaction with other people! The thing that matters most is just being honest and comfortable with yourself … then conversation will just happen.
Do you have mentors in the Illinois area? I am willing to pay for this service.
Thank you for contacting us at TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. Most coaching/mentoring is done over the phone and can be still be very effective. In my seminars when students ask about finding a coach/mentor, I often recommend Dr. Gina Hiatt, an expert in dissertation coaching, from www.AcademicLadder.com.
Please give Dr. Hiatt a call at (703) 734-4945 or email her at Gina@AcademicLadder.com. You have nothing to lose by calling her, asking questions and getting more information. Find out about the differences between individual and group coaching. Students find her feedback quite useful in getting past the emotional roadblocks of writing their thesis/dissertation and completing their graduate degree.
I wish you all the best. Please contact me again if this doesn’t work for you.
Dr. Carter, I just wanted you to know that with the help of TADA, I have completed my dissertation and it has been approved. All I have to do now is schedule the conference call.
Thank you so much for all you have done and especially offering such useful materials to get through this somewhat daunting task.
Maryjane, Fayetteville, NC
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.
About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters’ degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers’ names or e-mail addresses.