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Key English language tips for before, during, and after your business lunch or dinner

target training

I was recently coaching a department head in the automotive industry here in Germany. Before long, the topic of business lunches and dinners came up. We spent some time going through the following topics and quick tips.

Before the meal

When you are hosting a business lunch/dinner, it is your responsibility to invite the person and check their preferences. Some people may have food allergies or religious beliefs that limit what they can eat, where they can eat, etc. When setting up your lunch or dinner, try some of these phrases in your emails, phone calls, or when speaking face to face:

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Invitations

  • Since you will be in town Tuesday night, I was hoping you would join me for dinner.
  • I would be delighted if you joined me for lunch on Wednesday.
  • Would you like to have lunch on Friday?
  • What are your plans Tuesday evening? How about dinner?
  • What do you say to grabbing dinner on Monday? My treat. (by using ‘my treat’ it means that you are telling your colleague that you will pay for their meal. An alternative is “it’s on me”)
  • How about we get some dinner after our meeting on Thursday?
  • I know a great sushi place in the center. Do you want to join me for lunch tomorrow?

Checking your colleague’s preferences

  • Which do you prefer: local German food, Indian, or pub food?
  • Do you have any preference on the type of restaurant? There’s a good German restaurant close. A Lebanese one. An American diner. What do you think?
  • Anything specific you would to like try while you are here?
  • I know a great little Italian restaurant close to the office. How does that sound?
  • I’d be happy to pick a place for us to eat. I know that sometimes we have certain types of food we prefer/or have to avoid. Is there anything specific you would like me to take into consideration when choosing a restaurant?
  • Just so I pick a place we both can enjoy, are there any types of food that you don’t eat?
  • What are you in the mood for? Korean? Steaks? Pasta?

During the meal

One of the keys of being a good host during a meal is making sure the conversation flows. It is a good idea to get the other person talking as this takes the pressure off you and people love talking about themselves. A great way to get people talking is to ask open questions, or a series of open and closed questions that build on each other. If you are asking a series of questions, the follow up questions shouldn’t sound forced and unnatural, and should build on the previous answer. You can then show that you are paying attention to what your colleague is saying by using confirmation statements and questions. Here are some suggestions that may help:

Conversation starters

  • So, what do you think about Germany so far?
  • Looking forward to the weekend? What do you have planned?
  • What are your holiday plans for this year?
  • I’ve never been to Boston. What would you suggest I do if I visit?
  • I have always been fascinated with Indian culture. What would you say the biggest challenge is for visitors to India?
  • I know you have only been in Germany for a week, but how does it compare with Brazil?
  • Do you follow football? What sports or hobbies interest you?
  • I’m sorry the weather has been so bad here in Germany. How is the climate in Shanghai?

Follow up statements/questions

  • What exactly do you mean by different customs?
  • And where else have you visited in Europe? Nice. What did you think about Madrid?
  • Tell me more about your school system in Sweden. That sounds really interesting.
  • That’s cool. How did you become interested in playing the guitar?
  • Really? Why is American football so popular?

Active listening/confirmation statements

  • I had no idea that skydiving was so common there. That is really fascinating.
  • So, you are saying that teenagers can drive a car when they are 15 years old? Wow!
  • Really? I didn’t know Americans don’t need a visa when they visit Europe.
  • Ok, I understand why you might think that is difficult.
  • How did you feel when that happened?
  • What did you say to him after that?

A lot of keeping good meal conversation going is focused on small talk. For more information on small talk with native English speakers, check out our socializing with Americans eBook.

After the meal

Quite often, good ideas come up when you are discussing business out of the office. Also, promises are made to send someone something, contact someone, etc. It is usually a good idea to send a follow up email after your business lunch or dinner. This can be done the next day, or a few days after depending on what was discussed. It’s also polite, can help build rapport, and is a good way to remind both parties on what next steps need to be taken. Want some help with structuring and what to say in your follow up email? Download our one pager on business lunch and dinner follow up emails.

So, the next time you have to host a colleague or client for dinner, don’t worry. It helps to do a little preparation by thinking about what you can do before, during, and after the meal to make sure you get the most out of your business meal. Guten Appetit!

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Not everyone’s a natural at small talk

small talk english

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Do you prepare for small talk?

Not only natural small talkers are good at small talk. How much time do you spend preparing for a presentation? Let’s assume you don’t make those up as you go, why should it be different with small talk? Being a confident small talker means you need to be prepared and give some thought to what you can ask and say.

Knowing what to ask

When you are back in France visiting your colleagues at the local plant, recall prior conversations you had. What did you talk about in the past? Holidays, children, work, hobbies? Remembering specifics is great but not necessary. Perhaps you remember that your colleague told you they were going on holiday, but you forgot when and where. Ask something like, “The last time I saw you, you mentioned you were going on holiday. How was it?”





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Knowing what to say

When you know you will be put in situation where you must make small talk, for example lunch with a client or visiting a project site, think about what contributions you can make. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What interesting books or movies have I read or seen recently?
  • What are my upcoming holiday or weekend plans?
  • What interesting places have I traveled to or visited recently?
  • What new projects am I excited about at work?
  • What new challenges am I facing at work?
  • What are my current hobbies?

Answering these questions to yourself will help prepare you with topics of conversation to share in small talk that you feel are safe. Try to have three or four experiences or contributions in mind before entering a small talk situation.

Remember what small talk is

“Every great romance and each big business deal begins with small talk. The key to successful small talk is learning how to connect with others, not just communicate with them.” Bernardo J. Carducci

It’s great to ask your small talk partner questions about themselves- it shows sincere interest. However, if you only ask questions and never share anything about yourself, it will sound like a job interview at best or an interrogation at worst. Try to strike a balance between listening and speaking.

For more small talk, here’s one I wrote earlier: Open up your small talk

Open up your small talk

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Great small talkers know that the key to creating meaningful and significant conversation is a matter of asking the right questions. Asking the right questions can help build and develop stronger relationships. Your goal when small talking should be to try to learn about and connect with the other person, not just to pass the time with purposeless chatter. So what are the right questions?

“Every great romance and each big business deal begins with small talk. The key to successful small talk is learning how to connect with others, not just communicate with them.” Bernardo J. Carducci

Open questions are key

You will never learn much about anybody by just discussing the weather. So what do you do? Closed questions like “How was your weekend?” or “What do you do?” can be answered quickly, without thinking in one word or a short phrase. “Good” and “I’m an engineer” don’t teach us a lot about the other person. Equally important, closed questions focus simply on the person asking the question – we want to focus on the person answering the question.

Open questions like “What was the best part of your weekend?” or “How did you end up in your field of work?” encourage the other person to pause, think and reflect. Open questions need to be answered with feelings, opinions and stories. And this is when you might be surprised and truly learn something about the other person.

So try using some of the open questions below the next time you’re making small talk.

Instead of . . .

Use. . .

How was your weekend? What was the best part of your weekend?
What do you do for work? How did you end up in your field of work?
How was your day? What did you do today?
What’s your name? What’s your story?
How’s the project going? What part of the project is the most important /challenging to you?
Are you happy with your current supplier? Tell me about the last time you had a problem with your current supplier.
Is the project on time and in budget? How do you measure the project’s success?

Try a 3:1 Ratio

Open questions can push the small talk further. However, you can’t just ask open questions. Closed questions serve a purpose, too. Closed questions are a good way to warm up or get the conversation going in the first place. So try using 3 closed questions to 1 open question. This establishes a comfortable balance, but still allows for the opportunity to really connect with somebody.

Here’s an example of questions to ask when making small talk with a stranger at a business convention.

  • Have you been to this convention before? (closed question)
  • Are there any speakers you’re looking forward to hearing today? (closed question)
  • So where do you work? (closed question)
  • How did you end up working for XYZ company? (open question)

Remember small talk is not about avoiding uncomfortable silence, but a chance to create insightful conversation. So give the other person a chance to tell you their story by asking them open questions.

You might also like:

 

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Why small talk is never a waste of time in America

target training

I used to work for a large German logistics company as an in-house Business English trainer. Every morning I walked into the building and I would greet the security guard. Many of my German colleagues did this too. Not everyone learned his name though. I began to exchange daily pleasantries, talk about the weather, the weekends and would ask about his holiday when he returned back to work. Some of my German colleagues thought this behaviour was bizarre. They were surprised when I invited him to my office to share a piece of my birthday cake.

Small talk is never ‘small’

From my side I never understood why this was seen as unusual. To me, I was fostering a relationship that would make my working life easier. I know that might sound a little “mercenary” but my intentions were good. When I would occasionally forget my company identification card at home, the security guard never gave me a hard time or made me fill out the paperwork to obtain a temporary day pass (and this, of course, was not the case for other colleagues). As an American, small talk is never ‘small.’ In fact it plays quite a big role in building business relationships. It’s important, meaningful and significant.

Why is small talk so difficult?

I know that many of my clients find making small talk in English one of the most difficult things to do. My participants have told me that they are worried about saying the wrong thing, or that they don’t have the right words. I’m learning German myself, and I fully understand these problems.

However, I’ve also had German colleagues tell me that they feel small talk is unnecessary. Some have even told me it’s a waste of time – there’s time for fun when the work is done. Culturally, I find it harder to share these views.

Americans use small talk as a business tool

Many Americans approach small talk as an invaluable use of time because it can build and create new contacts and develop stronger relationships. We often don’t realize how many decisions we make based on gut feeling. And this is why small talk is so critical in America. The small talk before the job interview, at the corporate event or in the elevator with the boss can be very powerful at making a memorable impression. The person might not remember what you said but they will remember the impression you made – how you made them feel.

Of course small talk is not the sole determiner of success in American business. You must also perform the duties of your job with high quality. However, interpersonal relationships are significant in a work culture that does not have the legal safeguards often found in Germany.

3 things to keep in mind when developing your small talk skills

 “There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation.”— James Nathan Miller

The goal of small talk is not to make an overnight connection

Think of small talk as planting a seed in the garden. Making small talk once is not enough. You need to cultivate the relationship over time.

Listen and listen more

A brilliant way to strengthen a new relationship is to truly listen to the person and learn what is important to them. Once you understand what makes them tick, small talk will be much easier. Open questions are key.

It’s not all about what you can do for me

Don’t treat small talk as a one-way street. If you’re only thinking about what you can gain from the relationship, the small talk will come across as insincere and unauthentic. Small talk is not ‘how is this person going to help me?’ Small talk is about nurturing a genuine business relationship. So consider, ‘what can I offer’ or ‘how can I help?’ Additionally, the relationship will feel more personally fulfilling when you are able to give more than you take.

If you want to know more…

Then these links might be of interest to you:

And if you have another minute, let us know what problems you face when trying to make small talk in English.

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Happy Birthday emails

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What do you say when you wish a colleague a happy birthday?

In the modern business world, we have contact with a lot of people on a day-to-day basis. We all have one thing in common: birthdays! Wishing a colleague a happy birthday is a great opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them. Regardless of the company or the culture, it is nice to be wished a happy birthday.

I am sure you have had that sinking feeling when you realize that you have missed someone’s birthday. As a manager, I feel that it is important to wish my colleagues (this includes people that report to me and people I report to) a happy birthday. If I didn’t do it, I would be concerned that people would be offended and my relationships would suffer.

It is easy to wish your friends a happy birthday but how do you do it professionally to colleagues?

We don’t tend to say “congratulations” to people on their birthdays. The only time we might say it is when someone turns 18 or 100!

 writing emails that people read

Some example emails you could use:

Formal

Dear Mr. Smith,

I am writing to wish you a happy birthday. I hope that you enjoy the day.

Many happy returns!

Kind regards,

Jonny

Informal

Hi Phil,

I just wanted to drop you a quick line to wish you a very happy birthday!

I hope you have a great day.

Take care,

Jonny

Belated (nachträglich)

Hi Phil,

I just wanted to wish you a happy belated birthday. I am sorry I didn’t contact you yesterday, I was on a business trip in Poland and didn’t have internet access or network on my phone.

Did you have a good day?

Let’s catch up soon,

Best wishes,

Jonny

 

Happy birthday to you

It makes people feel valued if you remember an important day in their lives. A simple wish as happy birthday strengthens relationships and can avoid potential offence. I have found it useful to keep a record of people’s birthdays on my Outlook calendar. That way, I don’t have to worry about forgetting.

Want to improve your emailing skills?

Our blog has a large number of posts that could be of interest to you. Click to view more posts on emailing.

Doing business the Dutch way

martin wheeler

I spent a lot of my professional life working in different countries before settling down in Germany. Being Dutch myself, I’ve been regularly surprised at being called blunt and likewise, frustrated by people not simply saying what they mean when they had something to say. Since joining Target Training, I’ve gained a better insight into different cultures, through international colleagues and tools such as the IAP. 

The Dutch are known to be direct, sometimes blunt and always forthcoming with their opinions (even when not asked) in business, just like they are in their personal lives. They don’t ‘beat around the bush’ or ‘mince their words’. This behaviour can be perceived as rude by foreigners, but in the Netherlands it’s highly appreciated when people say what they mean in as few words as possible.

Point out mistakes

When doing business with the Dutch, don’t be afraid to point out a mistake. More likely than not, you’ll actually gain the respect of your Dutch colleagues / business partners if you do so. At the very least they’ll appreciate that you’re giving them the opportunity to correct the mistake that you’ve spotted.

Give your opinion

Giving your honest opinion is a virtue in the eyes of the Dutch. Even if you completely disagree with what they say, it’s better to share your thoughts than to keep them to yourself – and be direct. Business meetings and discussions focus on reaching consensus, not top-down decision making. Everybody gets to have their say. Once a decision is made, the Dutch tend to stick to it.

Are you looking for cultural insights?

Read the first part of this series of articles: How the British handle difficult questions.

Do you have specific questions about how to deal with international colleagues or partners? Or, have you gained cultural insights through your work in different countries? Let us know!

More about our intercultural seminars or the IAP.

 

Actions speak louder than words

The Dutch don’t put a huge value on titles or the amount of money you might make. Though they value education, having a number of letters in front or behind the name on your business card (prof. dr. , etc.) won’t get you the respect this automatically gets you in other cultures. Regardless of your status, they will tell you what they think if you ask for their opinion or input. They expect you to do the same. If you can prove that you ‘know what you’re talking about’, you’ll earn their professional respect. You may the boss of a company, you are still expected to know how the coffee machine works!

More tips on dealing with the Dutch

  • Avoid superiority or being overpowering. Try to reach consensus by negotiation rather than by instruction and respect the opinions of others.
  • When you meet a Dutch business partner or colleague in person, shake hands with everyone else in the room too (even the team assistant who is only there to take notes) and when you leave, shake hands again with everyone in the room. This is regardless of meeting for the first or the tenth time.
  • Don’t be overly polite or too nice. To the Dutch, these are suspicious behaviours and may cause irritation and may be seen as insincere.
  • Don’t be surprised (or insulted) when your working lunch consists of a cheese or a ham sandwich. A “broodje kaas” or “broodje ham” are staples of the Dutch lunch (often accompanied by a glass of milk or buttermilk). Anything more than that is seen as overly excessive.
  • Don’t expect compliments (or give them) at every opportunity. You may have come up with a solution to world hunger, or a complex business problem, or even saved the company a ton of money by making a small change in an operational process – “good job” is about as much as you’ll hear from them, if anything. Saying more than that when giving a compliment is perceived as embarrassing. However, you can see silence as a compliment – remember, your Dutch colleague or partner will point it out if there’s something “wrong” with your work.
  • Don’t talk business after business hours. To the Dutch, there’s time for work and time for ‘play.’ If you need or want to discuss business after hours, make sure your Dutch partners/colleagues agree to discuss business during ‘play’ time.
  • Avoid exaggerating about your products, services or experience. To the Dutch, these should speak for themselves.
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5 tips for successful networking

target training

Originally published on 25.03.2013

I know enough people at my company.  I have enough friends.  I’m not comfortable speaking and reaching out to people I don’t know.  I’m not a salesperson. 

The list of excuses on why not to engage in professional networking can go on and on.  As undesirable as it can seem, networking successfully can lead to improved performance in your current job, as well as opportunities for future career development.

5 quick tips on making networking easy

Network with a purpose

Set a specific goal (improving inter-department relationships, growing sales in the logistics industry, discovering opportunities to work abroad in your company, etc).  The more focused your networking is, the faster the desired results will be.

Share useful information

It is always easier to reach out to someone when you know you have something they can use.  Think of something that has helped you in your job (a process, document, tip, etc) and pass it along.  If you help someone first, they are more willing to help you when you may need it in the future.

Use the other person’s ego

You don’t want to contact someone and ask them for a job.  Instead, contact them and ask for an informational interview if you are looking for a job.  Tell them you have some questions that you feel their experience will help answer.  You will get some insight and a good networking contact, and they get to feel like an expert and helpful.  It’s a win-win situation.

Follow up

If you say you are going to send something, send it.  If you say you are going to check on something, do it.  Following up on what you say you will do shows respect and professionalism, and helps build trust with the contact.  Also, make sure to follow up regularly with contacts even when you don’t need something as there will be a time when you will; and no one likes that friend who only calls when they need something.

Use good etiquette

The same skills you have used to become a successful professional are the ones you will use to build and maintain a good network of contacts.  Here are some good reminders on what to do/not to do when networking online and face-to-face.

There are many other ideas on networking successfully.  Check out Target Training’s seminar on networking for professionals here.  Tell us in the comments area below what have you done to build your network.

Giving and asking for recommendations

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Giving and asking for recommendations

Have you ever wanted to recommend a person, their services or even a good restaurant to someone else but didn’t know how to do it? Have you ever wanted someone to recommend you to others? Maybe you have a special skill that you’d like others to know about. You might have heard about a position, but need someone to recommend you in order to apply. Perhaps you just want to share some useful information with others and want them to know how much you liked it. All of these situations require us to give or ask for recommendations. Below you’ll find some examples of how to do this.
Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download

Asking for recommendations:

  • Could you put in a good word for me?
  • Could you let others know about this experience?
  • Could you pass this on to others?
  • Would you mind sharing your experience?
  • Would you add me to your contact list?

Giving recommendations:

  • I highly recommend using this product / service.
  • This person is highly trained / very skilled / very professional.
  • We found the information presented very useful.
  • I only have positive things to say about this product / this person / this service.
  • I would be happy to give you their contact information.
  • Please mention my name when you contact them.

Here are some examples:

Employee / colleague asking for a reference:

I am writing to you since we have worked on many projects together. You always seem very pleased with my ideas and the way that I deal with problems that come up, so I would like to ask you to share this information with a potential new supervisor. As you know, I am applying for a position in the [name] department and I need a recommendation from someone who has worked with me. Would you put in a good word for me?

Response to the request:

You are right, I am very satisfied with the work that you have done in the past. I’d be happy to act as a reference for you since I think that the [name] department would also benefit from your skills. If they contact me, I’ll definitely pass your name on as a potential candidate.

Possible reference statement:

I would be happy to recommend [name] for the position you are trying to fill. [He / she] is very highly qualified and has always successfully dealt with the topics we have worked on together in the past. I only have positive things to say about [him/ her]. Please mention my name to them if you decide to shortlist them for an interview.

Try it and tell us about it

Now that you have some ideas about how to ask for and give recommendations, why not try it out by asking a colleague for feedback on a presentation or a project you have recently completed?

Maybe you can do someone a favour by recommending them to others. Or perhaps you want to let us know what you think of the information presented in our blog? Please feel free to use our comments box below.

 

 

Doing Business Internationally: What JFK Can Teach Us

June 26th marks the 50th anniversary of American President John F. Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech in West Berlin.  Kennedy’s historically significant address came after the Soviet backed East Berlin had erected a wall to prevent ease of movement.  Although delivered on a German platform the speech was intended for the world’s stage.  So why are we still talking about this speech?  And better yet, what can this speech teach us about doing international business in a global company?

Kennedy successfully draws in his audience and creates connection with the West Berliners by uttering a few words in German.  Kennedy connected with his listeners by delivering a simple yet passionate message.  With his distinctive Bostonian accent, he is able to relate to the crowd by employing the language of his host country.  Although some believe his declarative is really a cry about his similarity to jelly donuts, he left the podium with cheering crowds.  Hence Kennedy provides an excellent model of what the visitor in a foreign country should thoughtfully replicate.

Quick Tips on doing business internationally:

  1. Learn a few words in the language of your host country.  When meeting with global business partners, an attempt at the local language can establish more rapport and trust than people care to realize.  A simple greeting and ‘thank you’ can go a long way.
  2. Know the name of your partner’s nationality.  Yes, you are communicating with colleagues and customers in English. Therefore, you should know that people from Prague are Czech, people from Amsterdam are Dutch and people from Athens are Greek.  And of course, citizens from Berlin are Berliners.
  3. Be aware of the local political, social, economic climate of the place you are visiting.  You might just be in the country for a few days doing business, but your business partner lives there and is impacted and influenced by their local landscape.  However this is not carte blanche to act like an expert and give advice because every language has a word for someone who is a Klugscheißer.

Moreover compelling communication is not about your agenda, your priorities or your end game.  It is about understanding the needs and concerns of your partner, appreciating their point of view and adding value and meaning to the relationship.

So, have you had your jelly donut moment yet?  Let us know, or if you have any other tips on doing business internationally in the comments are below.

Remembering Names: Quick Tips

Do you often take part in meetings or workshops? Do you have trouble remembering the names of new people?

In my job as a trainer, I often spend whole days running sessions with people who I have never met before. I make a point of remembering the names of all of the people. I am often asked how I remember everyone or if I have a great memory.

I don’t have a great memory, but I do work on remembering the names. How do I do it? There are two things I always do.

2 Easy ways to help you remember names

  1. As a trainer, when a new group of people comes into the room, I draw a map of the room in my notepad. I then ask the people to introduce themselves. I write their names on the map and try to include one or two extra details: job title, responsibility, etc.  If I am a participant in a meeting, I also look for an opportunity to find out who is who. If everyone introduces themselves, I write their names in the appropriate position on the map. If I am not sure who someone is, I simply ask the person next to me.
  1. Whenever I talk directly to someone in the room, I make an effort to use their name. Always! At the beginning of the day / meeting, I need to use my map of the room first. I check quickly on the map, note the name and then address the person. Once I have addressed someone 3 or 4 times, I find that their name sticks in my head. At this point, I no longer need to look at the map.       

Incredibly simple! First, I write the names of the people on a seating plan. Then, I use the name at every opportunity. The more I use it, the quicker I will remember it.

Why not try this yourself at the next meeting that you attend?  Let us know if you have any other tips for remembering names in the comments areas below.

Networking Successfully: 5 Quick Tips

I know enough people at my company.  I have enough friends.  I’m not comfortable speaking and reaching out to people I don’t know.  I’m not a salesperson.  The list of excuses on why not to engage in professional networking can go on and on.  As undesirable as it can seem, networking successfully can lead to improved performance in your current job, as well as opportunities for future career development.

5 quick tips on making networking easy

Network with a purpose

Set a specific goal (improving inter-department relationships, growing sales in the logistics industry, discovering opportunities to work abroad in your company, etc).  The more focused your networking is, the faster the desired results will be.

Share useful information

It is always easier to reach out to someone when you know you have something they can use.  Think of something that has helped you in your job (a process, document, tip, etc) and pass it along.  If you help someone first, they are more willing to help you when you may need it in the future.

Use the other person’s ego

You don’t want to contact someone and ask them for a job.  Instead, contact them and ask for an informational interview if you are looking for a job.  Tell them you have some questions that you feel their experience will help answer.  You will get some insight and a good networking contact, and they get to feel like an expert and helpful.  It’s a win-win situation.

Follow up

If you say you are going to send something, send it.  If you say you are going to check on something, do it.  Following up on what you say you will do shows respect and professionalism, and helps build trust with the contact.  Also, make sure to follow up regularly with contacts even when you don’t need something as there will be a time when you will; and no one likes that friend who only calls when they need something.

Use good etiquette

The same skills you have used to become a successful professional are the ones you will use to build and maintain a good network of contacts.  Here are some good reminders on what to do/not to do when networking online and face-to-face.

There are many other ideas on networking successfully.  Check out Target Training’s seminar on networking for professionals here.  Tell us in the comments area below what have you done to build your network.