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After 20 years, I've finally figured out that it is much easier to make a sale, build partnerships, create joint ventures--you name it--with people you already know than it is to do business with people you just met. The key is to establish a relationship before you need it. And the key to that is mastering the art of schmoozing.
1. Understand the goal. In his book The Frog and Prince: Secrets of Positive Networking to Change Your Life, Darcy Rezac gives the world's best definition of schmoozing: "Discovering what you can do for someone else." Great schmoozers want to know what they can do for you, not what you can do for them. If you understand this, the rest is just mechanics.
2. Get out. Schmoozing is an analog, contact sport. You can't do it alone from your office on the phone or via computer. Force yourself to go to trade shows, conventions and seminars. Get out there and press flesh.
3. Ask good questions, then shut up. The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot; it's that you can get others to talk a lot. Ask questions like, "What do you do?" "Where are you from?" "What brings you to this event?" Then listen. Ironically, you'll be remembered as an interesting person.
4. Unveil your passions. Talking only about business is boring. Your passions make you interesting. Good schmoozers unveil their passions after they get to know you. Great schmoozers lead with their passions. (In case you ever meet me, my passions are children, Macintosh, Breitling watches, digital photography and hockey.)
5. Read voraciously--and not just business publications. You need a broad base of knowledge so that you will have access to a vast array of information during conversations. Even if you are a pathetic, passionless person, at least be a well-read one who can talk about a variety of topics.
6. Follow up. In my career, I've given away thousands of business cards. If all those people called or e-mailed me, I'd never get anything done. The funny thing: Hardly anyone ever follows up. Great schmoozers follow up within 24 hours--a short e-mail will do: "Nice to meet you. I hope we can do something together. I loved your Breitling watch. I have two tickets to the Stanley Cup Finals if you want to attend." Include at least one thing that shows the recipient isn't getting a canned e-mail.
7. Make it easy to contact you. Many people who want to be great schmoozers don't make it easy to get in touch. They don't carry business cards, or their cards don't have phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Even if they do have the information, it's written in gray 6-point type. This is great if you're schmoozing teenagers, but if you want old, rich, famous and powerful people to call or e-mail, use 12-point font.
8. Give favors. One of my great pleasures in life is helping other people; I believe there's a big Karmic scoreboard in the sky. God is keeping track of the good that you do, and she is particularly pleased when you give favors without the expectation of return from the recipient. The scoreboard always pays back.
9. Ask for favors in return. Good schmoozers give favors and return favors. But great schmoozers ask for favors to be returned. You may find this puzzling: Isn't it better to keep someone indebted to you? No, because keeping someone indebted puts undue pressure on your relationship. By asking for and receiving a return favor, you relieve the pressure and set up a whole new round of give and take. After a few rounds, you will be best friends, and you have mastered the art of schmoozing.