Interview with Valeria Maltoni of ConversationAgent.com
Valeria Maltoni is the author of business blog ConversationAgent.com, where she connects ideas and people on marketing, communications, execution, and trends. She believes that the new marketplace is the conversation. By day, she is a communications and marketing expert and manages global communications and marketing in corporate America, where she has built corporate brand equity in 5 industries; launched new products/services and rescued old brands; managed image and reputation; and designed business conversations that produce results.
Josh: How do you define Business Networking and why do you feel it is important?
Valeria Maltoni: I view networking as an outcome of all the different activities we humans engage in as social creatures to construct our reality, evolve and satisfy our curiosity.
The business component is how we express our skills and talents, a demonstration of which is our work. It’s about relationships, the net we weave between the people we meet and connect with and ourselves, where we’re not necessarily at the center.
This is very important to understand, as many will tell you that networking is about the give and take of relationships but will never specify that the point is the connection, not you. Of course, everything we do, especially in business, we do from self-interest. That is a given.
More than ever, technology has enabled the connection — we are responsible for the connectedness part. Remaining in touch, taking care of the people individually, learning what they need, filtering information and sharing your resources without keeping score are some of the ways.
The other responsibility you have is to yourself: to be true to yourself and your values (some people call this authentic), to know what you need and be able to articulate that clearly in the marketplace so that others can in turn help you reach your goals.
Josh: Can you share one of two ideas that someone could put into practice that would help them to improve their business networking skills?
Valeria Maltoni: Be action oriented. Take the initiative to help others. That is also the best way to stay in charge of your business results and let others see you at work.
Remember to separate yourself, the relationship part, from your needs and goals of the moment, the thing you are trying to achieve. That will make it easier to stay positive and energetic during your activities, stay soft on the relationships and hard on the issues, when needed. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how this attitude will lead to success. And remember to stay in charge of the follow through – most people don’t and this will be another way to set yourself apart.
Listen more than you talk. When you engage in a conversation, quiet the little voice in your head that wants to get to the ‘what’s in it for me’ part or tries to think of a clever come back. Remember that people like the ‘me, me, me’ part, just like you do. You will be surprised by the amount of business intelligence you can gather when you join the conversation in real time and provide space for the other person to talk.
Josh: For some people knowing where to go to network in the first place is a problem. Can you share some resources, events, or places that you have found helpful for meeting new people and growing your business network?
Valeria Maltoni: My first advice as you participate in all activities and groups is to find the connectors within those groups. These are the people Malcolm Gladwell talks about in The Tipping Point. They not only know many people, they also know what these people are passionate about. Learn from them. Connectors are the gurus of business networking. Sometimes you are lucky and a connector becomes your mentor. Treasure that relationship; it will take you places.
Your alumni association and volunteer organizations both attract people who wish to remain active in the community and who are generous with their time, which is what you’d be asking them to set aside to talk with you.
Some other forums that come to mind are professional association events, chambers of commerce, advisory boards for the arts, business schools and charities. Your current place of work is another great place, and right in front of you – I am amazed at how many discount this, your colleagues should be part of your network!
Fast Company magazine readers’ network is an excellent source since the professionals who are members learned about it mainly through word of mouth. A grassroots network is already embedded in the group. This global network is active in many of the major US cities. The Philadelphia chapter, which I’ve been developing and leading for over 6 years, counts more than 450 diverse business professionals.
Members are people who work in corporate America, entrepreneurs, consultants, and free agents from any line of business you can think of. Our monthly events provide a platform to meet like-minded people by offering timely and topical business content in a problem-solving format. You may learn more about it at www.fastcompany.com/cof. We recently launched two subgroups: one for people in career transition in partnership with ASTD (American Society for training and Development), and one for taking new ideas to market.
Other hidden gems are Toastmasters.org and eVite.com. For the geeks among us, in addition to LinkedIn and Ryze, there are many online tools to complement your networking experience: Orkut.com, Knowmentum.com, Entremate.com, which connects entrepreneurs, Hi5.com, Friesdster.com, Tribe.net and Zerodegrees.com. You can also create and join a community of sharing at Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, and Meetup.
Remember that these resources complement your other activities; they do not replace them.
— You can visit Valeria Maltoni at ConversationAgent.com.
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