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Get real

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When it comes to professional networking, it’s time to toss your 30-second elevator speech and to start having real conversations.

That’s the perspective of Michel Neray, a Toronto-based business coach who helps professionals and companies discover and express their unique competitive advantage to others in a compelling and engaging way.

“When I listen to people networking, very often they’re regurgitating a memorized script, and this drives me up the wall, because there’s no opportunity for the other person to engage. A real conversation is much more powerful,” says Neray, founder and chief differentiation officer of The Essential Message, which offers a variety of business coaching and consulting services.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in networking, Neray says, is focusing too much on the benefits they can provide to others before having a true sense of their needs.

“Rather than blab on about a solution you can offer, you want to engage the other person in a conversation around the challenges they have that you’re uniquely positioned to solve,” Neray says.

Allow the other person a genuine opportunity to talk about their business problems, Neray says, and be an effective listener.

Ask strategic questions to help the other person get to the root cause of their challenges, he says.

“You get a deeper connection by asking questions that continually qualify or disqualify you to the other person. You’re constantly evaluating whether you can be of service to them,” he says.

When discussing how you can be of help, be specific by expressing the core strength you bring to the table, Neray says.

Effectively communicating your value requires distilling all of your talents, skills and abilities into clear and concise terms — what Neray calls your “essential message.”

“Most of us are so focused on the science of personal brand marketing, we never do the digging work to be able to say, this is what drives me. We are all driven to solve distinct challenges, and you need to be able to know, and to clearly tell people, this is what I do better than everyone else in the world,” he says.

Once you have a solid idea of your essential message, he says, reflect further on how you do what you do — your unique processes and techniques that enable you to be effective.

Then, when networking, be specific in the way you articulate your strength, and how you use it. For example, he says, instead of telling people in vague terms about your abilities, describe how you used them to help other professionals or companies.

“Relate your personal experiences to the person’s challenges, and pepper them with examples of how you helped other people with your expertise — the unique methodology you’ve created to help your clients overcome similar challenges, and what was achieved,” he says.

Rather than going in with a mindset of getting clients, he says, treat networking as a learning opportunity to discover the business needs of others, and how you can help.

“Use it like research — you want to find out what challenges people have, where your own best business fit is, and how you do things differently from others in your field. Use it as an exercise to become more clear about what you do that’s special,” he says.

This approach to networking will not only help you match up with better prospects, he says, it will also save you time by being able to more quickly identify those for which you’re not suitable.

“Many people spend too much time developing relationships with people where there’s not a good fit,” Neray says. “Once you become clear about what sets you apart, you’ll become fine-tuned to quickly connect with the right people.”

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