This is the final article of a three-part Business English series by ELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes. Here, he looks at ideas and exercises for successful networking.
We often think of successful business networkers as people who enjoy being the centre of attention. However, effective networking is about using normal conversation to meet new people and build positive business relationships.
At its core, networking requires a business person to be interested in the other person, to be positive and to be interesting. Let’s look at these three aspects of networking in terms of the language your students will require. I’ll share ways to develop each part of the skill with three classroom activities.
It’s important for the other person to know you are interested in what they are saying. That means using techniques to show you are listening and interested. Clearly, use of body language is crucial here such as regular eye contact with the other person and nodding your head in agreement. But the language you use will make a huge difference to how the other person feels. We can teach phrases to respond such as ‘Really?’, ‘I see’ and ‘That sounds interesting’. However, these phrases alone are not enough. Work on asking questions which follow on so, for example, you might build a dialogue like this:
Person A: I’m based in London but I’m working on a new project in California.
Person B: Really? How often do you go out there?
Note that the question following ‘Really?’ is an open question because this will always be more effective for networking than a closed question. Open questions beginning with what, why, who, where, when or how draw out a more interesting detailed response. A closed question such as ‘Do you work here?’ only demands a Yes or No response. One simple exercise to practise this is to give students a list of closed Yes/No questions that you might ask in a social situation. For example:
1 Do you work here?
2 Do you do any sport?
3 Can you speak any languages?
Tell students to work in pairs. Student A asks one closed question and Student B answers with a Yes/No answer. Then Student A has to transform the same question into an open question and Student B responds with an open answer. So they might produce a four line dialogue like this:
Student A: Do you work here?
Student B: No, I don’t.
Student A: Who do you work for?
Student B: I work for a large multinational company based in Bonn….
By working through the list of closed questions and creating dialogues with open questions, the exercise demonstrates how useful open questions are for networking and it provides good speaking practice with revision of question forms.
In general, we prefer to do business with positive, friendly people. When we are positive, we tend to connect with the other person and making connections is what networking is all about. One activity you can use in class to practise making positive connections is the following. It’s also very good for practising the past simple and present perfect.
Write the following on the board:
– Companies you’ve worked for
– Subjects you’ve studied
– Places you’ve visited
– Jobs you’ve done
– Recent films/concerts you’ve seen
Students stand in groups of four or five as if they are talking at a conference. You set a time limit of three to five minutes and explain that the students can talk about any of the topics on the board.
During the conversation, they give themselves a point every time they find they have something in common with another person. So part of a conversation might go like this:
A I’ve worked for a few companies. My last employer was Microsoft.
B: Really? I’ve worked for Microsoft too. [Receive a point.] When did you work for them?
A: In 1999. I was based in New York.
C: Me too. I worked in New York. [Receive a point.]
The activity is great for fluency and a lot of fun. Students become very competitive to receive points so this encourages them to make conversation. It also highlights the benefits of being positive and finding things in common with the other person.
Of the three aspects of networking, the third and final is the one people find strange; after all, can you really train someone to ‘be interesting’?! In fact, what this means is that to be a successful networker, you need to give the other person plenty of information about you (i.e. be interesting) so that they can respond (i.e. be interested). In language terms, it means that introducing yourself like this isn’t enough: ‘My name’s John. I’m a sales manager.’ Instead, give more information about you such as: ‘My name’s John and I’m in charge of our sales teams across Central and Eastern European regions.’ You can give students further practice with ‘being interesting’ by putting them in pairs. Write a series of topics on the board such as: Job, Location, Company, Hobbies. Each student takes turns to talk non-stop for one minute about themselves on each topic. The other student listens and times the minute. Obviously a student wouldn’t normally talk non-stop for a minute without the other person responding but the aim is for students to practise saying much more about themselves.
For more ideas and exercises on successful networking, take a look at John’s video-based course, Successful Meetings, co-written with communications expert, Andrew Mallett. This contains eight units on different aspects of meetings skills including a unit on networking.
This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.