I have just returned from Spain where I attended a Business English Teachers’ Conference. The conference was held in the enchanting seaside town of Sitges near Barcelona. The hotel venue was excellent, I had a sea view room and the weather was fantastic. It was so mild that on Sunday there were a few people swimming in the sea!
Sitges was the third in a series of conferences I’ve attended this year. 2015 was the year I decided to attend conferences for two reasons- to continue developing professionally and more importantly, to meet and share ideas with other ELT (English Language Teaching) professionals – teachers, teacher trainers and publishers; in other words, to network more with my colleagues.
Working on my own as I do can be isolating, so it’s important to build a professional network that allows you to develop and improve all the time and to forge more relationships. Through social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (not so much Google Plus for no particular reason), I have been fortunate to have built a strong network of supportive and inspiring colleagues.
However, no matter how strong your online connections are, something changes when you meet them face to face. And that’s what I’ve found through attending conferences. In fact, the more conferences you attend and the more times you meet the same people, interact with them and spend time with them, the stronger the connection becomes. Why is that? Why is it not the same in the virtual world?
The fundamental difference, in my opinion, is the non-verbal communication (body language, facial expressions) involved in face to face networking. Using your body, for instance, a handshake, a hug or a social kiss can be more powerful than the things we say. Similarly, facial expressions like a genuine smile reflect our personality far more than the emoticons on our keyboard!
The use of our voice and intonation to express interest in what the other person is saying can enhance a relationship. Expressions such as “How interesting!”, “Oh wow” and “That’s amazing” are meaningless if they are not said with feeling and a smile. Of course, this cannot be done online unless you’re chatting on Skype or FaceTime which in my experience doesn’t happen that often.
Being an active listener is crucial if you are to be an effective networker in English or any language for that matter. Unfortunately, most people are not very good at listening actively. Studies have shown that we remember only about 25–50% of what we hear. This means that in a ten-minute conversation with your boss or friends they really listen to you for only two and a half to five minutes.(Source: Macmillan English Life Skills)
Good listeners have a number of things in common. They use ‘interested’ body language. This means that:
- they look at the speaker’s eyes,
- they show interest with their facial expressions
- they often lean a little bit towards the speaker.
Asking questions and actively listening to the response can create a long lasting rapport between you and your colleague or client.
A gossip talks about others, a bore talks about himself – and a brilliant conversationalist talks about you. (Anonymous)
Taking a genuine interest in others is what being a good networker is all about, in my opinion. It’s not about you. It’s about them. If you are interested in what they have to say and make them feel good about themselves, you will leave a memorable and positive impression and the chances are, they will look forward to doing business with you or hearing from you again.
For my part, I have met some wonderful colleagues (friends) with whom I hope to forge lifelong relationships.
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Ciao for now