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Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 8, 2000. All rights reserved.

For Adults, Schmoozing 101

Walking into a room full of strangers is a terrifying

experience for most people, but for Mark Plante, it’s as natural

and shaving and brushing his teeth in the morning. "I could talk

to anybody off of the street about anything as long as they want,"

says Plante, who teaches "Schmoozing Your Way to Success,"

on Monday, March 13, at 7 p.m. at the Learning Studio on Route 1.

Call 609-688-0800. Cost: $55.

Don’t let the title mislead you though. Plante is not a smooth-talking

car salesman; he’s a down-to-earth guy who climbed through the ranks

of a fast-food chain before stumbling on Dale Carnegie’s course and

rediscovering his love for public speaking. And he has his share of

networking credentials. "I belong to a chapter of the National

Speakers Association so I’m meeting people all the time," he says.

"The Dale Carnegie course was tremendous because I learned how

to deal with people, and after 20 years in restaurants you know how

to talk to people."

For the past nine years, Plante has been a part-time instructor, and

full-time homemaker in Marlton, where he lives with his wife and two

teenage children. "At the height of my homemaker career, I was

head of the PTA," he says.

Homemaking has been an important, although informal, part of Plante’s

training as a professional networker or schmoozer. "I’m a man

in a woman’s world," he says. "I have to learn to live and

work in a woman’s world. I have to learn how to talk and communicate

with women, whereas I didn’t before."

Plante grew up in Manchester, Connecticut, and spent

20 years climbing the corporate ladder at the Burger King corporation.

After becoming a franchise consultant, he retired from the fast-food

business so he could raise his two children. He received a degree

in history from Thomas Edison State College, 20 years after graduating

from high school, and soon after became a certified instructor for

the Dale Carnegie course. His first big gig came when a Temple instructor

canceled out on the course "How to Work a Room." Plante took

over, and has been doing 80 to 100 public speaking engagements per

year ever since.

A member of the National Speakers Association, Plante has always had

a love for oratory. "I can remember when I was seven years old

watching President Kennedy’s inaugural address just being fascinated,"

he says. "A normal seven-year-old kid doesn’t usually have the

attention span to watch a public speech."

That love of storytelling and speaking translates into a unique teaching

style, a mix of signature stories, drawn from his life experiences,

and imagery. "People who do classes talk in generalities, but

I give people very hard, concrete things so that they feel successful

when they’re done," he says. "What do you say in a networking

situation? I tell them. I plant the ideas in their mind in an interesting

way."

Imagine a nameplate, says Plante, six feet wide and four feet high,

and put a house on top of that, and on top of that house put a family

on one side, and a work glove on the other. Now you have at least

five different questions to ask. "First question: what’s your

name? do you have a family? are you married? I give them eight conversation

starters. If it’s business situation I given them seven."

The greatest icebreaker of all time, says Plante: a handshake. That’s

the first exercise for all his students. "No one’s talking to

each other, and then all of sudden everyone is talking to each

other and I can’t get them to sit down," he says. "They just

can’t miss. I give them all the skills that they need to have a good

time anywhere."

Most of Plante’s stories come from his trials and tribulations as

a homemaker, which Plante says has broadened his view of the world

tremendously. "I get to do things that other guys don’t,"

he says. "I spoke to 40 six graders. My daughter runs a race each

year and she comes in last place — but I’m the only parent there.

You just can’t put a price on that."

In fact, his daughter is one of his greatest mentors, and the protagonist

of an important parable about good social skills. "I talk about

how my daughter made instant friends with this cancer patient who

was taken out of an ambulance and put into the pool that we go to,"

he says. "She wants to find out why, so she swims over and they’re

instantly best friends."

"I try to find out my daughter’s secret to success and it’s simple:

she’s interested in other people."

— Melinda Sherwood


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