The Science of Networking with Vanessa Van Edwards

Our latest Professional Development event featured Vanessa Van Edwards, a published author, behavioral investigator, and people-watching connoisseur! Vanessa delved into what it takes to have more effective interactions.



Do you break a sweat at the idea of networking? Dread the awkward conversation about what you do for work? Don’t let this fear hold you back from creating new, professional relationships. With the following tips from Vanessa, you’ll be ready to successfully influence, communicate, and connect with others with ease.

Knock out drab conversations

What is a question that comes to your mind when starting a conversation at a networking event? Most people ask, “How are you?” “What you do?” or “Where are you from?”

These questions are easy to fall on, but let’s face it, they usually lead to boring, unfulfilling conversation. Instead of asking these questions, here are some swaps that Vanessa recommends:

  • Instead of “How are you?” ask, “What was the best part of your day?”
  • Instead of “What do you do?” ask, “Are you working on anything exciting lately?”
  • Instead of “Where are you from?” ask, “Any fun vacations coming up?”

Dopamine (a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers) is produced during fascinating conversation, such as the conversation swaps above. We like people that disengage our auto-pilot. By asking fascinating questions like what someone’s upcoming vacations are, you are disengaging their social script. Not only will this lead to interesting conversation, it will make you a more memorable person.

The next time you’re faced with meeting someone new, try swapping typical questions out for more exciting ones!

Showing engagement in conversations

Hand gestures

Vanessa and her team have studied countless TED Talks and found an interesting link between the talks with the highest ratings. The most popular talks had significantly more hand gestures from the speaker.

Hand gestures are like pictograms for your words. They help bring what you’re saying to life and keep the person or people fascinated about what you’re saying. Be careful with this. Refrain from distracting, over-the-top hand gestures — no jazz hands, people!

Speaking of hands, let’s talk about handshakes. Vanessa says that one of the biggest mistakes we make is that we don’t give a handshake at the end of a meeting. Give the person you’re chatting with a final handshake at the end of the conversation. It gives the person a final burst of oxytocin (also known as the love hormone).


Another great way to show engagement during a conversation is to nod your head. Specifically, Vanessa talked about a slow, triple nod. This will let the person you’re talking with know that you’re interested in and understand what they’re saying. Interesting fact: when you do a slow, triple nod, the person speaking will talk three to four times longer! Be mindful not to do this too much. You don’t want to come across looking like a bobble head.


Want to command respect in professional situation? You can do so with how you look at people. Our eyes make a pattern on people’s faces. There are three kinds of gazes that Vanessa speaks about, including the power gaze, the social gaze, and the intimate gaze.

For professional situations, it’s all about the power gaze. This is when the pattern of your gaze is between someone’s eyes and up to their forehead. We often do this in business situations. It’s what alphas or natural leaders do. To be taken seriously, stick with the power gaze.

Learn more about different gaze styles by checking out Vanessa’s CreativeLive presentation.

By incorporating these tips into how you communicate, you’ll be on a path to effective, engaging conversations. Want more information? Follow Vanessa on Twitter, and purchase her book, “Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People.”

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