Submitted By: Laura Sicola, PhD, Vocal Impact Productions

Networking isn’t hard; the problem is that most people start from the wrong end! Most advice is “top-down,” beginning with tips like giving a firm handshake, a warm smile and eye contact, etc., all of which is certainly valuable, but then you have to open your mouth, and that’s where people get stuck. My advice: work from the bottom up. 

What you need is a simple intro comment that will make people want to turn their attention to you, and allow you to follow up with, “By the way, I’m Laura,” along with that handshake and smile. For women, a guaranteed winner is to look at another woman, point to her feet and casually say, “I just wanted to tell you, I LOVE your shoes!” That kind of comment makes the listener immediately feel good about herself, and you get the credit for giving her that feeling. So when she smiles and thanks you, that’s when you introduce yourself with “by the way,” and see where the conversation takes you from there.

The idea is to make a personal connection right from the start with something that doesn’t reek of, “I just want to swap business cards to see if you’d be a good customer for me.” When it feels like you’re someone people will like talking to, they are willing to drop whatever they were focused on and give you their time and attention.

At that point, the question becomes identifying your metaphorical “shoe.” For many people (men and women,) technology often holds that place in the heart, so if you see a guy standing alone checking his smartphone, try opening with, “Hey, I don’t mean to interrupt but is that a Galaxy? I’ve been thinking of getting one but not sure I want to switch; does it live up to the hype?” People love to give their opinions, so if you’re standing in line at the bar and the person in front of you orders an interesting microbrew, you can interject, “Moose Drool – ha, that’s a great name. Is it any good?” Others are passionate about sports teams and appreciate celebrating/commiserating with other fans, so if you overhear someone talking about last night’s game and you know the outcome, chime in with, “Man, didn’t that break your heart?”

Once you’ve made the connection, jot a note on the back of that person’s card about the topic that broke the ice, and reference it in your follow-up e-mail afterwards. It will help jog their memory and remember you with a smile. And getting people to associate your name with a smile is exactly what successful networking is all about.


Dr. Laura Sicola, founder of Vocal Impact Productions in Philadelphia, PA, helps leaders hone their “Vocal Executive Presence,” i.e. the ability to confidently and authentically command the room, connect with the audience, and close the deal in any context. She has spent nearly 20 years coaching, lecturing, researching and publishing on language, cognition, pronunciation, culture, the voice and learning. She is a speech coach for the TED Fellows program, and has delivered TEDx talks, workshops, presentations and keynote addresses on topics ranging from the art of persuasive speaking to intercultural business communication, for audiences across the US, in Egypt, Japan, Spain, China and Germany.