Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Monday, 31 January 2011

A guide to elite networking at Davos

By Stephen Sackur
Presenter, BBC HARDtalk

Delegates gather at the World Economic Forum
Every year some of the world's most powerful people come to Davos

Next time I'll bring a translator. On this, my first trip to Davos, my linguistic failings have been horribly exposed.

I'm not talking about my inability to muster more than a couple of words of Swiss-German, I'm referring to my lack of fluency in mind-numbing corporate jargon.

Take the title of this year's World Economic Forum - "Shared norms for the new reality".

Eh? How do you share a norm? Is the new reality different from the old reality? Who decides which reality is really real?

Clearly I don't attend enough board meetings. At Davos, every workshop, seminar and dinner discussion seems to end with the moderator listing a number of "takeaways".

At first, I half expected a pizza menu to appear on the power point. But alas no.

Takeaways seem to be bite-sized conclusions that can be drawn from any given debate and gnawed upon later.

Star spotting

So here are my top takeaways from Davos - the Do's and Don'ts of elite networking at high altitude.

Former US president Bill Clinton attends a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos
The real stars of the event are politicians and business leaders

Do hone your observation skills. You need to be able to spot the movers and shakers at 100 paces.

After much research over the past 48 hours, here's my handy self-help guide - delegates with impossibly perfect tans and teeth that gleam whiter than the snow on the Swiss Alps are corporate titans.

They run Fortune 500 companies, they've just received a bonus and all is well with their world.

Delegates dressed scruffily with poor haircuts and inappropriate footwear are fellow journalists (or possibly London Mayor Boris Johnson).

Delegates with a haunted look and teams of nervous advisers are Western politicians. Ask them about their budget deficits and watch the perspiration flow.

More than economics

Do take advantage of the unparalleled access. Last night, I had dinner with a bunch of Latin American leaders.

Do talk about how much you'd love to be gliding down the black run if you weren't so darned busy and important

The presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic opened up about their political ambitions and problems in flawless English.

The Panamanian president was particularly entertaining and I would love to tell you more. But I can't. Them's the rules at Davos.

Do try to catch a session with William Jefferson Clinton - the expert with charisma. He loves Davos and Davos loves him.

Want to know why Sweden's carbon taxes are the best in the world, or what's happening in the Chinese solar industry? Bill's your man, and there's plenty of life in the old dog yet.

Amy Chua
Amy Chua's memoir has sparked furious debate in the US and Europe

Do graze all the free food options. I happened to find myself in the middle of the buffet offered by the Chinese city of Dalian. Dim sum to die for. I can think of no better reason to invest in Dalian.

Do find things to talk about which don't involve trade imbalances, budget deficits and rising commodity prices. Davos delegates are only human, and they get bored just like the rest of us.

Seek out the visitors who have more to talk about than economics. I spent a fascinating morning with Amy Chua, the author of The Battle hymn of the Tiger Mother - her memoir of raising two daughters has become a manifesto for the pushy parent.

Are uber-high achievers born, or made? Everyone in Davos wants to know.

Feelings of inadequacy

Don't forget that too much time networking can be bad for your health. Take frequent breaks in the pine-scented Alpine air or things can go badly wrong.

Village of Davos
The ski slopes around the mountain resort are a tempting distraction

I was in the (aptly named) global high-risk debate when two delegates fainted. Luckily when the cry went up: "Is there a doctor in the room?" Half a dozen people responded.

That's what comes of mixing with the global elite.

Don't make the mistake of being in Davos if your home country is in turmoil.

Take the case of Amr Moussa, Arab League head honcho and former Egyptian foreign minister.

Everywhere he went, a phalanx of cameras and reporters trailed in his wake. They didn't want to ask him about investment opportunities in the Arab world, they wanted to know if it was time for President Mubarak to quit.

Mr Moussa looked as happy as a fox who's seen a pack of hounds heading his way.

Don't even think about going skiing. It doesn't look good. But do talk about how much you'd love to be gliding down the black run if you weren't so darned busy and important.

Don't succumb to feelings of inadequacy.

At one reception I met a charming Spanish woman who revealed within 10 minutes that she was a "Young Global Leader", had a PhD in microbiology, had started up her own biotech company in the US and was on the verge of a major public health breakthrough.

She then gave me a smile and said, "And what about you?"

Don't take anything you hear in Davos too seriously. File away all the fine words and big promises you hear in the Swiss mountains over the course of this week and re-examine them in 11 months time.

Does Davos make a difference? Only then can you decide.

Stephen Sackur's interview with President Santos of Colombia will be broadcast on Monday 31 January on BBC World News at 0430, 0930, 1530 and 2130 GMT and on BBC News Channel at 0430 and 2330 GMT.



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