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Lauren M.G. Burt: 10 tips on how to network like a professional

Email your etiquette questions to Lauren M.G. Burt at You may see it answered in the next column.

Growing professional networks and social circles is important. Especially in the formative years as a young professional. It has been said that the person you will become is determined by traveling, the books you read and the people you surround yourself with. And networking is a key piece to creating and obtaining opportunities to open the doors of life.

Here's how to master the art of networking and conversation:

  • Get outside your comfort zone and attend events to meet new people. Greet the host or organizer as soon as possible. When someone looks your way, hold eye contact and smile. A simple smile connects two strangers. Be aware of eye contact and body language so you appear welcoming. Approach someone who is standing alone or a small group of people. Avoid interrupting a serious conversation between two people.
  • Make an effort to introduce yourself to as many people as possible by saying hello, and use your first and last name. Keep in mind that many people are as shy and nervous as you may feel. If you think you have met someone before, instead of saying, "Nice to meet you", get in the habit of saying, "It's nice to see you", so you never offend or make the moment awkward.
  • Keep your right hand free of food or drink so it's available to shake someone's hand. And your hand won't be clammy after holding a drink.
  • When meeting a large group of people at a table, introduce yourself to each person.
  • Keep the conversation positive and light. You want people to feel comfortable. Try to find a common point of interest. Focus on current events and pop culture. Stay away from topics like relationships, health or anything too personal. And take the statement, "I am so busy" out of your social dialogue. The world is busy, everyone is busy, so find another topic.
  • Don't interrupt someone, chew with your mouth full or check your phone while in conversation. Realize that perception is reality. Pay attention to the small details of social cues.
  • Use the ratio of listening 60 percent and talking 40 percent of the time. Ask prompting questions. People love to talk about themselves. Ask someone how their day has been, what brought them to the event, how do they know the host, etc. The question of "What do you do?" should be woven into a conversation; it shouldn't be first.
  • When speaking about your company or career, don't pitch your business or product – pitch yourself.
  • Be mindful of time. Keep conversations around 5-10 minutes and exit gracefully with, "It was great to see you, please excuse me". And if you've made a connection, end with exchanging contact information. If you say you want to follow-up, do so within 24-48 hours. An email or phone call works, but a hand-written note makes a bigger impact.
  • And if you're leaving an event with a host, always say goodbye and thank them before leaving.