Schmoozing 101: The Gift Of Gab

While most of us won't make it onto the Canadian Business Rich List, it doesn't mean that hobnobbing with the fabulously wealthy is out of the question.

Let's face it. Most of us will never make it onto the Canadian Business Rich 100. But that doesn't mean that hobnobbing with the fabulously wealthy is out of the question. If you're looking to establish contacts with the tycoon set or increase your face time with the A-list of the biz world, you'll need a few pointers. “People who have a lot of money–they've learned how to watch their back and they don't communicate as freely with strangers as a person who makes $50,000 or $100,000,” says Adeodata Czink, Canada's “Empress of Etiquette” and founder of Toronto consultancy Business of Manners. That said, there are some basic dos and don'ts when it comes to schmoozing, regardless of whether you're chatting up a multimillionaire or the guy next door. Do it right, and you'll be one step closer to building long-term relationships that will support you in both life and business. Do it wrong, and risk alienating yourself from potential friends and clients by inheriting a reputation as a smarmy social climber.

DOs >>

Be prepared Whether you're standing at the grocery store checkout, seated in an airport lounge, or attending a ritzy black-tie gala, always be ready to network. If you know in advance who's going to be at a party, try to find out at least three things about any invitees you'd like to meet. A quick Google search can usually help you figure out where people are from, where they work and what charities they support. It's also a good idea to prepare a few open-ended questions–such as, “What are your tips for being successful?”–that you can use in case you're having difficulty getting the conversation started, according to Susan RoaNe, a keynote speaker based in Marin County, Calif., and author of What Do I Say Next? Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success. Also, she recommends having a seven- to nine-second personal introduction ready to help break the ice. And don't hand out business cards arbitrarily–only if someone expresses interest in something you have to offer.

Master the art of small talk “When you're making small talk, a lot of people think they have to get right to the point,” says RoAne. That is not necessarily the case. Try to ease into a conversation by finding a common interest. Czink recommends avoiding politics, religion and the weather. If it's necessary to talk business at a social function, it's best to provide a subtle warning to gauge its appropriateness. “If you're picking my brain without telling me you want to pick my brain, I feel uncomfortable,” says Czinc. Instead, offer to take a possible contact out for lunch or coffee at a later date. Darcy Rezac, managing director and chief engagement officer at the Vancouver Board of Trade and author of Work the Pond! Use the Power of Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life, puts it this way: “You want to be remembered for all the right reasons. The best way to do that is to be recognized for your competency and your good works.”

Follow up “This may not be the crowd that's going to give you their business card, so you have to be a little more inventive,” says RoAne, who suggests using the Internet or even other contacts to get a high-powered individual's e-mail address or phone number. Then, she advises, follow through with an e-mail and a handwritten note. Rezac says that the best way to follow up is to ask permission. “One of the things you can do to get yourself in hot water in terms of your reputation is to send what we call a drive-by e-mail blast to everybody you met at a function the night before,” he says. “If what I'm about send to this busy person doesn't contribute to their day, then I shouldn't be sending it.” Know when to back off if someone's not returning calls. “The golden rule is this: when your horse is dead, dismount,” says Rezac. “Sometimes it just doesn't work.”

DON'Ts >>

Forget your manners Etiquette, dahling, is everything. Don't be late. Always say hello and goodbye to your host. And “never, never, never” be a no-show without calling first, says Rezac. If you're meeting someone for the first time, avoid nosy or invasive questions. Name-dropping is a bad idea, unless you already know you have friends or colleagues in common. Be yourself and always remember that, in the end, we've got more in common with the rich than not. “They still read books, they still go to movies,” says RoAne. “They still worry about their kids and they get sick just like the rest of us. These things put us all on a level playing field.” Finally, learn how to take a hint. When someone starts looking over your shoulder at others across the room, it's time to bow out politely, says Czinc.

Come on too strong Starting with a sales pitch can be the kiss of death. If you treat individuals as prospects rather than people, they'll quickly figure out what your motives are. “It's not about you; it's all about discovering what you can do for someone else with no expectation of anything in return,” says Rezac, who likens being cornered at a party by an overeager schmoozer to being duped into buying a time share after being invited to a “free” weekend getaway or resort. Remember, building meaningful business relationships is a lifelong process, not something that happens overnight or is guaranteed after a single handshake.

Ignore spouses/significant others “Do you know how many people ignore spouses?” says RoAne. “When you are talking to the rich–and those people will be predominantly male–and their spouses are there, be equally attentive.” After all, who's most likely to have the ear of the person in question?