Online extra: Fleeson's how-to list for networking

As membership director for the Tower Club, Ardell Fleeson is the consummate schmoozer. Her job is to help business executives make connections at the Vienna, Va.-business club, one of the prime meeting places for the Washington area's high-tech movers and shakers. Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery asked Fleeson her tips for networking and making introductions.

WT: What are your top tips for effective networking?

Fleeson: Understand the other person's motivation. What's their objective at this networking function? What's their objective in their job? Try to speak to them about what's near and dear to their heart.

Have a memorized opener when you are introducing yourself, so that your intuitions are free to scope out the person you are introducing yourself to. If you are fumbling for an introduction, or you are fumbling for a business card, you are going to be distracted from focusing on that person.

People love to be the center of attention, even if it is just one on one. Don't be looking over their shoulder for the next person to meet.

When you introduce yourself, don't say, 'I worked for 20 years for a Fortune 500 company.' It's a business affectation that makes you sound like a loser. Why don't you say, 'I worked for 20 years for Lucent.'

Never use the phrase 'management consultant.' Everybody is a management consultant. What did you do? Did you hire bodies to fulfill a contract, did you write spreadsheets that had to do with the future of the company financially? Say the sizzling stuff.

Everybody should have a memorized, three-level introduction that's clear. Like when people ask, 'What is the Tower Club?' I say, 'Power breakfast, power lunch.' People want to know more.

I could say, 'The Tower Club is the premier business networking organization for Tysons Corner.' That's just confusing. We are the premier business networking organization for Tysons Corner, but in what form? The form is power breakfast, power lunch.

Then one drill-down is a few more facts. I say the Tower Club at lunch has 23 tables and 15 of those tables have done deals together. That is really interesting. The next level down is 'Our members enjoy lots of golf privileges.' They say, 'Cool. Where's the golf?'

You do this three-level deal, and people do know what the Tower Club is, in about 30 seconds. My job seekers will take a whole paragraph. Nobody can listen that long. We need little sound bites.

Have an agenda. What are you going to the networking function for? Of course you are going to pick up new customers. But aren't there also some sub-agendas that will get a conversation started?

I have a friend who is launching an in-home repair business, and my question to get the conversation going is, 'What would you pay per hour for somebody to come to your house and solve problems that bedevil you?' That's an interesting conversation starter, which is not 'Join the Tower Club.'

I also love asking people, 'What is your single biggest challenge?' That question is really good after you have gotten the conversation started.

WT: Do you have any tricks for remembering people?

Fleeson:. My thing is if people look like their names. Like you look like a person who could be named Gail. That's how I remember. It might be lunacy, but that's how I do it.

A lot of people are ashamed that they have forgotten a name, and don't want to ask again, but it's useful to realize nobody can remember names very well. Halfway through the conversation, say, 'Tell me your name again,' and repeat it back. You are just admitting your humanity.

I meet people who will shake my hand and say 'Hi, it's nice to meet you,' but don't say their name, which I think is kind of rude. So I say, 'Oh, tell me your name, or I'd love to know your name' ? come right out and ask it.

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