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Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Art of Schmoozing

Let's see-- I just posted about being an Administrative Courtesan, and now I'm blogging on schmoozing. I've been told by many of my close friends that I'm one of the better networkers/schmoozers they know. It's not that I'm so good, it's that most academics (and , truth be told, most non-academics) are so bad at schmoozing that I look good by comparison (kind of like having the best house in a bad neighborhood). So, since I believe most things are learnable, I looked around for a good guide to schmoozing.

Luckily, Guy Kawasaki at Let The Good Times Roll has written one. Here's a shortened version of his suggestions (in bold type) followed by my comments:
  1. Understand the goal - it's not about what the other person can do for you, it's what you can do for them. This is the single most important thing to remember. Bad schmoozers look out for number one. Good schmoozers look around and think "what can I do for the other guy".
  2. Get Out - scmoozing is an analog, contact sport. You can't do it from your computer. For an academic, this means that you should be going to at least one or two and preferebly more meetings a year.
  3. Ask good questions, then shut up- the best way to be a sparkiling conversationalist is to let the other person talk. If you're an academic, ask them what research they're working on - trust me - it's their favorite subject.
  4. Unveil your passions - for me, it's almost anything, but sushi, japanese food in general, and learning about other cultures are several of my favorites. Whenever I meet someone from a new country, I get them to tell me how to say "hello", "thank you", "beer" and "bathroom". Then I write it phonetically. When I see them next time, I'll try to greet them in their language. I also organize sushi outings at conferences with new friends.
  5. Read voraciously - this isn't a problem for most academics. In fact, asking the other guy what he's been reading (see #3) is a great question.
  6. Follow Up - when I meet someone, I make a few notes in my daytimer as soon as I can. I review my notes on the plane after the conference. I've been doing this since I went to my first conference over 10 years ago, and it works extremely well. By making short notes, you can more easily send a short, personalized email. And even if you don't, you'll remember wht you talked about next time you bump into them.
  7. Make it easy for them to follow up - always keep a few business cards on hand.
  8. Give favors - smart people look out for how they can help others. It'll come back to you. Here's a good example - I happen to be a pretty good SAS (statistical programming language widely used by academics). At any conference, if I meet people, I let them know that they can email me if they have questions. I've made friend with a lot of junior faculty and grad students this way. It may pay off some day, but if not, I still get a get a lot of free drinks aat conferences (and that's a good thing).
  9. Ask for favors - if you give a favor, ask for one. This way (not right away, but don't wait too long). This often makes the other person more comfortable - no-one likes to owe people something. One of the best ways to ask for favors is to ask them for comments on a paper (if it's in their area, or even if not).
Read the whole thing here.

The bottom line is that schmoozing is mostly about letting the other person know you're interested in them, you remember them, and you're willing to help them. One of the reasons I'm a good schmoozer is that I get a kick out of most people, and I like to be helpful. The rest is just technique. It's not that technique isn't important, but if you have the right attitude, techniqque comes easily. If not, don't even try.

Now go out and do something nice for someone at the next meeting you go to.

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