THE BLOG
09/19/2014 04:00 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2014

Talk to the Shield!

I met a woman this week who intrigued me. Fascinated me, actually. (It's not what you're thinking.)

I actually met her and a guy she was dating through my business partner at a hotel bar. Confusing, I know! They had all just returned from a networking mixer and I was meeting them on my way home from my own gig. What was the intrigue all about? Well, funny you ask!

I ended up in sort of a side bar conversation with this woman who I'll call Veronica. Veronica shared with me that men talk to her all the time at these networking mixers and they view her as a potential date rather than a business connection. In fact, she said that she puts up a "shield" when speaking with those she meets at events (mostly men it seems) because she wants to be respected as a serious business woman. It seems she leads with the shield much like a boxer leads with a jab.

I joked that her attitude was, "Talk to the shield!"

I started asking Veronica questions about why she feels she needs to be so guarded and that perhaps she should only raise the shield when attacked, rather than hiding behind it as a regular course of action.

But I think her shield was up.

I started thinking about all the business opportunities Veronica might be missing. Maybe she isn't giving the right signals when she's meeting new people. Maybe. Do people get "hit on" at these business mixers? Of course!

But here's the thing.

A business attitude will drive business language. That language will drive business behavior. And that behavior will drive a business relationship. And relationships drive business. That's the way it works. If your attitude is different (more social let's say), it's a different type of language, behavior, and so on.

Bottom line, if you act like a smart business person, you'll be treated as a smart business person. The shield should be in the form of the words you use and the boundaries you establish. And that goes for good looking people like you, as well as grizzled old boxers like me.

A natural byproduct of networking, especially if you go to regular networking mixers and events, is you will meet people you don't like -- don't worry, not everyone will like you either. If at least 3 out of 10 of the people you meet at events aren't great conversations that could develop into referral relationships, you're attending the wrong events -- or it's YOU!

Here are 6 suggestions that might help lower your shield and make you a better YOU.

Be Attractive
Being attractive comes in many forms. It's the way you look, yes, but it's also the way you act. How many attractive people do you know that say things that make them not look so good anymore? (Like people that tell you that they know they're attractive!) This gets back to the attitude drives business thing. Be interesting and equally interested in others. Share some of the things you're passionate about - sports, activities, hobbies, family, fantasy football, the fun stuff! And learn about what others are passionate about. Then bring it back to business and learn about how you can help each other achieve business goals. Now that's attractive!

Know What You Want
There's really only five purposes of networking -- to grow your business or career, job search, social reasons (meeting friends, dating), learning, or to solve a specific problem. That's pretty much it! When you go to events or get introduced to others (even through social media!), be clear on your purpose and insure your attitude, language, and behavior are in line. If it's business, know about the type of business you're looking for and be specific -- industry, profession, market segment, niche, dynamic, demographic, geography. The more specific you are, the clearer your purpose. The same thing goes for job searchers and social networkers. Network with purpose -- on purpose!

Talk the Walk
As in 'talk good'. Or speak well! Ask great questions of others and be ready when they say, "How about yourself?" Be able to talk about your business in an authentic way. You shouldn't sound like you're reciting a rehearsed elevator speech. "I help people make their dreams come true!" Be prepared to talk about your profession, expertise, target market, and call to action (what you want or who you want to meet). Awesome language is the path to awesome relationships. And that's awesome!

Dress the Part
Look the way you want to be treated. Dress like your clients and prospects. The way you dress often reflects the way you speak and ultimately act. I teach a public speaking class at Rutgers University and I ask the students to dress up on the days they give a presentation. They tell me they feel much more confident and deliver a better message when they dress for success. What impression are you leaving?

Act Professionally
Yes, this gets back to the attitude drives relationships thing. Nothing new here but cocktails and dreams, especially in a swanky hotel bar, can get you off your business game -- fast. Being professional is also about being positive, respectful, discreet, empathetic, relational, and minding your manners. I'm just saying.

Go to the Right Events
The reality is you don't need to attend events at all to network. If you wanted to, you could simply pick up the phone, email, use LinkedIn, etc. But meeting real people at events simply helps you fill your pipeline and adds to better calls, emails, and social media. But if you do attend events, are they the right events? Do they attract the right people? Can you connect with your target market? Are you making the right connections? Are you meeting people you can exchange business with over time? Are you fishing in the right ponds?

Leave your shield (and sword) at the office when attending events and you'll absolutely generate more prospects, more referrals, and more business. That is, if you're into that sort of thing.