February 16, 2024
Networking is an important part of business life these days; it always has been. Internet sites like LinkedIn promise to connect us to other like-minded individuals who can assist us on the ladder to success. I have not visited my LinkedIn profile in months and do not see as many messages from there as in years’ past, so perhaps that App is no longer hip enough to be of value to modern strivers. In olden days — before the personal computer, Internet, and smart phones — people interested in “bettering themselves” bought stacks of self-improvement books and joined clubs to develop their self-confidence, improve their speaking skills, and find out about potential opportunities. They could not sit at home and wait to be “discovered” by an employer looking for their particular set of skills. I have posted before that my first reaction to the Apprentice Department secretary telling me that I needed to give a televised speech at an awards dinner back in 1974 was to ask if I could give the award back. Like most people, engineers in particular, the very thought of standing up before a crowd and giving a speech was terrifying. Fortunately, my bosses understood the problem and got a speech coach lined up. Many re-writes later my “remarks” were ready for videotaping and very painful reviews by the coach. I was still nervous, but the event itself went off well and, at the urging of my supervisor, I joined a Toastmasters group to continue my training. A favorite “engineer” joke posits that you can tell an “extroverted” engineer because he looks at your shoes when he talks to you. With that stereotype in mind, we have always insisted our engineering interns make weekly “oral” progress reports to an audience. Most hate the idea at first, but after a few weeks they begin to appreciate the importance of being able to “stand and deliver” to your supervisors and customers. The AGMA Fall Technical Meetings and Gear Expo are important opportunities for engineers to “market” themselves and their companies. In between technical sessions, in receptions, and in the exhibition hall, you have perhaps ninety seconds to introduce yourself and explain what you are “about;” salesmen call this “the elevator pitch.” Do not be put off by the image of some slickster trying to sell you a time share. People go to these events to meet people. Think about what you would like to know about a new contact and be prepared to convey the same information in a concise manner when the opportunity arises.