“I got almost as much information from this training
program during the free time as I did during the formal class session,” one
police lieutenant remarked. So, does that mean the formal class sessions are
lacking in their content? Not necessarily. In fact, the formal program can be
great and the off hours may be just as great. The reason is simple: there’s a
great opportunity for professional networking.
Smaller class sessions can start out great if the
instructor starts off with introductions. You get to tell who you are, what
agency you represent, how much law enforcement experience you have, and any
other information that tells fellow class members who you are professionally
and, if appropriate, a little about who you are personally. This is the time to
think about what you are going to say about your background and to express your
needs from the program. It’s also important for the instructor to monitor the
introductions in order to see that the introductions do not turn into a “war
story” telling session.
Small class sizes are conducive to networking along
with classes that last for multiple days. During a small class you get more
time to explain who you are and what you want from the training program. You also have the opportunity to hear
information about others in the class. If there is something that an officer
discloses, you can, depending on the class protocols, ask a question
immediately. You may also want to wait for a break, approach the person, and
inquire about what he had to say.
You should also be open to having others approach you
and be willing to share whatever information you have with others. Being
willing to share information is one way to establish a great contact with
another officer, and even establish a friendship. Sharing information you have
can only help you in getting information in return. Even if you don’t get
additional information in return, you still have the satisfaction of helping a
brother or sister law enforcement officer.
Exactly what is disclosed during a break or at lunch
depends on the level of comfort when communicating with that person. Even in
law enforcement, a smile and a firm handshake go a long way during a one-on-one
introduction. Sitting down and having a cup of coffee with someone can be much
more rewarding than just providing a caffeine fix.
Any smaller class that goes on for multiple days is
conducive to developing a good rapport with many class members. Class rosters
and seating charts can encourage interaction during the formal hours of the
class and beyond. In fact, once the class roster or seating chart is given,
it’s a good idea to make notations by each officer’s name. Any pertinent
information can be given such as, “The big red-headed guy who mentioned his department’s
12-hour shift scheduling— he said it was great.”
Attending a large conference can also be fertile
ground for networking. Wearing name tags that state your name and agency
affiliation are usually provided, but not always. Have a contingency plan of
having an identification placard that slips onto a sport coat’s pocket, or a
name pin to wear on your outer garment can also work. These special name tags
are individually made and can be as simple as having your name and agency
engraved in plastic, or as elaborate as including your agency badge or a
modified version of the shoulder patch.
You should have a supply of business cards with you.
Keep your business cards on one side of a double-pocket business card holder,
and leave the other pocket empty. When you get someone’s business card, you can
then write a short description on the back of the card. This description is
similar to the description that you would write on a class roster, except you
would also put a date and location on the back of the card. When you get back
to your office, you can put the cards in a business card album, and include
them in a business card file, or key them into your computer’s address book or
a special computer program for managing contacts.
It’s amazing the way that some people can walk into a
room full of strangers and start talking with almost anyone. These are the type
of people who will get the maximum benefit from the conference. It seems that all eyes are drawn to them and
that people want to talk with them.
Charisma and enthusiasm are like magnets for most
people. You can feel their energy and you want to be around them. These people
aren’t the loud mouths, but when they speak, you cannot help but listen to
them, and it’s usually for a good reason— these are the movers and the shakers!
These people have something valuable to say, but they also know how to actively
listen to people.
Listening to people alone will put you ahead of most,
since most people would rather talk than listen. The process of listening is much
more than just being able to hear someone. Good listeners are aware of body
language, they have the ability to decipher the ”writing between the lines,”
and they are acutely aware of the tone and inflection of the speaker’s voice.
If you are attending a conference with an officer who
is also a good friend, consider splitting up during the conference. Both of you
can fly solo and develop many new contacts and maybe even make new friends for
life. There’s no doubt that you are in a comfort zone when you are with friends
or colleagues. Comfort is fine, but going to a conference is an opportune time
to make new friends. Sit with different people at luncheons, hang around the
coffee pot during a break, and try to “schmooze” during hospitality hours.
Whether a large conference includes vendors or not
should not make much of a difference in the potential value of the contacts you
make. A company spokesperson or a fellow law enforcement officer can both be of
value to you, just as you can be of value to them. Being of value to you
doesn’t mean that you’ll only contact people in your network when you need
something. If someone is part of your professional network, you should call or
e-mail to: offer your assistance if you think he might need some help; let him
know of some new development that may impact him; or share a valuable article.
It may sound too basic, but you should try to do what
you can to remember people’s names. When people hear their names spoken, it can
be like music to their ears, especially if you take the time and effort to
properly pronounce a difficult name. If you are not sure of the proper
pronunciation, ask for it and make an effort to use people’s names whenever you
speak with them. A disregard for someone’s name can put you on the fast track
of making a bad impression.
If you are involved in training, you absolutely need a
professional network. The larger your network, the better you can do your job
and the easier your job gets since there are so many people for you to reach
out to. And, if you become really skilled at professional networking, you may
even be able to walk into a dark room and light it up just by being there!
Ed Nowicki, a nationally recognized use of force
expert, is a part-time officer for the Twin Lakes, WI, Police Department. As
the executive director of ILEETA, Ed is also coordinating the April 13-17, 2004
ILEETA International Training conference in the Chicago area. He can be reached