Corporate Therapy: How Women Can Engage at Business Networking Events

Ready for a confession? I’d rather go to the dentist than attend a networking event. Turns out, I’m not alone. This is especially true when it comes to women networking at professional services events or industry events, where we’re often in the minority. Whereas it may take your breath away to walk into a room with a sea of suits engaging and interacting, there are some re-energizing techniques you can apply to make interacting less intimidating, thereby maximizing the number of rewarding connections you’ll make.

You’re Not Alone

Even if you are the only woman at an event, rest assured, you are not the only person who feels anxious. Networking favors extroverts. Since 40% of the population qualifies as introverted, there is clearly some pain in the room. Look for people who need rescuing….you know, those who are hunched over smart phones or hovering awkwardly on the perimeter of a group. If your attitude is that everyone has something valuable to offer, it doesn’t matter who you choose to engage with. Your generosity of interaction could make a world of difference to the person who is unable to initiate a conversation. You could literally save the day for a tortured introvert!

Dare to be Different

Men have it easy when it comes to business dress….they choose a suit and hit the pavement. The biggest decision they make is what tie to wear. Women have more choices when it comes to business dress— liberating for some, daunting for others. But women can spin this to work in their favor. Instead of wearing a dark suit to blend in, wear a bright red suit or an emerald green suit and stand out. No one will forget meeting you. Go one step farther and wear a conversation piece, like a unique necklace, a whimsical scarf, or a knockout pair of shoes. A brooch pin with a story has led to business for me more than once. And don’t forget that men and women alike notice accessories.

Actively Try to Help Others

When you put yourself into the role of helping others, engaging with strangers becomes less daunting. A good place to start is by offering to help the host. You’ll create a huge advantage for yourself by arriving early to an event. Not only is it easier to start a conversation when there are just a few people in the room who have yet to engage, but this is when you can offer your help if you see the host attending to last minute details: arranging chairs, opening wine, organizing nametags on the registration table. By offering your assistance, you’ll bond with the host, and you’ll also have a part to play. Psychologically, you’ll no longer come across as an anonymous guest, but rather a person with a role.

Divide and Conquer

Men engaging in group conversations often get pulled into sports talk. Whether you’re a man or woman, if you don’t authentically enjoy sports, don’t lose your momentum here. You’d be surprised how many men don’t have an interest in sports, but will endure the conversation so they don’t stand out. Use this to your advantage. Look at the group and spot the man whose eyes have glazed over. Engaging with him will build instant rapport, particularly since the natural conversation will begin with finding out what does interest this evolved gentleman.

Face Your Fear

A wise man gave me this piece of advice, and it comes back to me daily: Really, what’s the worst thing that can happen at a networking event? No one is going to hit you, and if someone is rude to you, that’s their shame. There is not a networking event I attend where my palms don’t sweat and my insides aren’t like gelatin. But that’s just our little secret; No one would ever know. Choose to show up at a networking event as an interested and interesting contributor to the event. Ask more questions, talk about yourself less, and after the event, commend yourself for having transcended your fear.


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How ‘bout Those Mets?: Networking for Women in a “Man’s World”

A woman once admitted to me that she worked “alone”, indicating that she was on her own in a workplace of mainly men, and wasn’t getting ahead. This is a truism, as many corporate women have come to realize, particularly in the hedge fund world. Often, by design or inadvertently, such male-dominated workplace situations are squeezing the female constituency out of the equation, and both parties suffer as a result.

That same woman sheepishly asked me if it would be to her benefit to learn to play golf, since that’s what the guys do together to network. Not a bad idea. However, it’s not the only approach to penetrating the “boy’s club” and networking in settings other than conventional networking events. In fact, with minimal effort asserted in a few specialized areas of interest, you will begin to command respect and gain the confidence to seize the same opportunities afforded to men in the business world. Consider some favorites, which have worked well for me and countless other successful women.

The Gender-Neutral Sport

In New York City, dining out is a sport for many, and it can be an even playing field with respect to gender. Fine-tuning your business dining etiquette is your ticket to playing in the big leagues. Along the way, consider familiarizing yourself with the hottest NYC restaurants, get a feel for modern cuisine, and treat yourself to a course in understanding wine. Being in the know can ultimately bridge the gap between you and the business networking scene.

The Sports Section is Your Friend

It might sound like a dreadful task if you don’t follow professional sports, but you should strongly consider skimming the newspaper sports section before you line the birdcage with it. If you’re up-to-date on the latest local sports news, you have no excuse not to be able to tap into any male-oriented discussion. It’s not like you’ll need to follow the games; just keep an eye on the team standings, and you’ll never be left out of the conversation.

Use Your Poker Face

One way to think like a successful man is to partake in the traditionally male hobby of poker playing. Poker Prima Divas teaches women introductory poker skills, and equates those poker principles to the business world. Joining one of their sessions can be effective in growing your teambuilding, leadership and negotiation skills, and can double as an evening of fun and networking for you and a colleague or client. Check out the Poker Prima Divas website, and get into the game.

Bypass the Gender Stereotypes Altogether

Don’t lose sight of the fact that not everything men enjoy doing is exclusively “male” in nature. Poke around and discover the other hobbies or interests of the men you work with, and then get creative. Visiting museums, attending the opera, walking in Central Park, and touring Manhattan are all popular, gender-neutral activities suitable for group participation or one-on-one meetings.


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Seizing The Spotlight: 6 Tips for Speaking on a Panel

If you had told me five years ago that one day I would be asked to speak about business on a panel, I would’ve assumed you had the wrong Deborah. Today, I find myself not only doing so periodically, but in some lucky circumstances, have had the honor of moderating such panels. Along this short journey, I’ve already picked up enough pointers to author an advice column about the ins and outs of the panel appearance format.

If you aspire to be a discussion panelist, or already find yourself winging it in the panel arena, it helps to understand that there are many layers to the art of effectiveness when you’re in the spotlight. This article will take you through the six essential aspects of maximizing your panel opportunities. If you perfect these techniques for boosting your confidence and polishing your demeanor, you can also prepare to be asked back to speak again and again.

State Your Name

Strangely, it’s not unheard of for even an experienced panelist to forget to begin by stating their name, occupation and their relevance to the discussion. I don’t have to explain why it’s fundamental to the effectiveness of your contribution for the audience to know who you are and what company you represent. What I do have to stress it how important it is to remind yourself to tell them, first and foremost.

Ease On In

This one’s for the introvert in us all: It’s completely normal for you to be nervous as the panel discussion commences. My advice is to just accept this as human nature, and do your best not to let on about it. A good approach is to be mindful of your posture and breathing before you speak the first time around. Exhale deeply before you introduce yourself. If you can pull off a smooth opening, just watch how relaxed you suddenly become.

Mind Your Speech

As we’ve discussed before in our articles about “unspeakable speech”, it’s to your benefit to be conscious of your speech patterns and vocal delivery. When presenting to a group or audience, your message is in danger of being taken less seriously if awkwardly intoned. Make every effort to avoid uptalk, vocal fry, monotone speech, and swallowing your words.

Grow Into Your Space

As the discussion unfolds, take note of how long or short the other panelists’ answers are, and make sure you take your allotted time to speak your own answers. You’ve been asked onto the panel because it has been established that you have something important to add; Stay politely within bounds, but don’t be a pushover or shortchange yourself.

photo 1 (17)Dress Strategically

Remember: Many modern panel discussions take place from behind a table, rather than at a dais. This is your cue to dress comfortably, as you’ll be sitting down for a while. Ladies: Consider wearing slacks rather than a skirt, so you can focus on the discussion instead of being conscious of keeping your legs crossed.

One Last Simple Detail

As with all business gatherings, meetings and networking events, always have business cards on hand for after a panel discussion. When people approach you, it’s a nifty way of keeping the conversation going after everyone departs. Your card has the power to prompt folks to visit your website, read your blog, acquire your book, and hopefully engage in future dealings with you.


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The Show-Up: Conveying Your Business Values in One Swift Move

As we run around frantically from meeting to meeting, bobbing and weaving through our business day on the street, our minds can sometimes work against us. The more coordinates we jam into our schedules, the more time our brains spend trapped in the past and the future, treating the present as an afterthought.

When I deliver workshops, seminars or addresses about Strategic DiningSM, I always stress how important it is to take a moment, breathe, and come to the present before walking into a business meal. This clearing of the mind should include reviewing your personal goals of the meeting while predicting what the other diners’ agendas might entail. Such an exercise is essential for influencing the direction of the approaching business conversation.

An Additional Consideration

For those of you who are ready to take their business presence to the next level, I’m pleased to announce a supplementary point to consider before you walk into that meal, meeting, or networking event. Perhaps even more important than all other aspects is being mindful of how you want to “show up”. We all show up differently depending on the scenario. But by making the way we show up deliberate, instead of swayed by mood or circumstance, we visibly deliver a premeditated message. For instance, did you have a rough start to your day that threw you off-focus? Or, did you just receive a message that your plans will be altered later that afternoon? Learning to re-channel such past/future stressors so you can be fully in the moment when you show up can make or break your impact at the meeting.

You Can Pull It Off

What do you want people to say after meeting you or working with you? What are your most cherished values, and how do you convey them? You can also think long-term. What would you want people to say at your retirement party? A solid way to start is by thinking of three adjectives you would desire people to use when describing you. Think about yourself, meditate on your standards and principles, make your list, and then show up with confidence!

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Let’s Do Brew: Troubleshooting The Strategic Coffee Meeting

Sometimes, “Let’s Do Lunch” isn’t entirely the right “Do”. Honestly, not every small business meeting needs to involve the expense of a 3-course prix fixe, two glasses of Sancerre and a 20% tip, not to mention the 60 to 90-minute commitment.

My own solution to this is “Let’s Do Coffee”, which turns out to be the setting for 3 to 6 of my most effective one-on-one business meetings each week. The coffee shop option is full of practicality on all levels, but like fine dining, also comes with potential pitfalls ready to trap those of us who lack experience or intuition. For anyone who fancies the caffeinated conference format, take the following bits of advice from someone who leads the charge.

Tick, Tock.

The first thing to keep in mind about coffee meetings is that the timing is not as defined as it would be with lunch meetings. For instance, I’ve had half-hour coffees that, in actuality, were 15 minutes too long; On the flip side, there have been two-hour coffees where we’ve just scratched the surface of our business at hand. Good practice is to get a feel for how much time the other person has, and set a cell phone alarm for a “hard stop” about ten minutes before a departure is required. This will preserve the flow of any deep conversation, while promising that scheduled commitments are met.

The Walking Coffee

To state the obvious, you can’t make a reservation at a coffee spot. If the line is long and the tables are full, it could carve an enormous chunk out of your meeting time. This is why arriving early for a coffee is even more important than for a lunch meeting. An additional technique I use for keeping on schedule is scouting out a public space near our date location that we can walk to once we’ve purchased our coffee to go. Now that the weather is mild, walking coffees will prove far more practical. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to get a little sunshine and exercise in the process. Here’s my secret cultured coffee hideout, if you happen to be meeting between 9 and 10:30am.

The Ambiguous Hour

Often, the coffee meeting time that works for both of you will fall close enough to either side of lunchtime as to suggest a small meal is in order. The androgyny of an 11am or 1pm coffee will certainly prompt you to choose your spot differently. My advice is to be mindful of the other party’s food preferences or lifestyle when making your choice. I know it’s hard to believe, but not everyone likes Starbucks! Just some brief online research the day before will help you zero in on an appropriate venue in any neighborhood.


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Applying The 80/20 Rule to Remote Network Management, Part 1: The 20%

Today’s approach to satellite employment clearly has its advocates and advantages. A New York Times article indicated last year that 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely, according to a survey of more than 15,000 adults. The ability to work from home, or from anywhere for that matter, can be a gift when it comes to flexibility and productivity. What liberation! However, remote work sure does make managing your network a tough challenge. But tough does not mean impossible! Just like with face-to-face networking, remote networking requires a ranking system, and we need to be thoughtful about it. The truth is, there is a set of parameters that, when adhered to, can add practicality back into network management for the satellite-bound, and for the rest of us as well.

Defining 80/20, and Getting Started.

As you surely realize on some level, not all network contacts are created equally. You’ll need to determine the key contacts you want to be in touch with frequently, which can be accomplished through the Pareto Principle. I first discovered this concept in the wine business, where it was introduced to me by a dear colleague as the 80/20 Rule. In practice, it dictates that you spend 80% of your time and energy on 20% of your accounts. When the same strategy is applied to network management by my clients, it is met with resounding success.

When getting started, keep in mind that your time is finite, and networking is NOT your main professional task. Prepare a list of your key contacts and VIP’s: Your 20%. Then develop a second list of folks you want to check-in with quarterly or semi-annually. Aim for a ratio that tags 20% of your active network as key contacts, and 80% as 2nd and 3rd-tier contacts. You noticed correctly— divide the 80% into two groups: 2nd-tier contacts should be people you have some sort of relationship with, while 3rd-tier contacts are people whom you’ve met and don’t really know, including thought leaders in your area of expertise that you haven’t yet met. Then, get ready to apply some strategies that have worked for DRIVEN’s clients.

The Rules of Engagement

To effectively stay connected with and on the minds of your 20-percenters, it’s wise to give them more than just a two-dimensional version of you. Here are the four rules to apply to these contacts:

  1. Actively schedule 30-minute phone calls to catch up. Have a coffee meeting over the phone, or more intimately, a Skype session. Keep a running agenda or continual commentary with these folks about what you’ve touched upon, so you can make your time spent more meaningful and aimed in the right direction. Remember to inquire about topics that matter to them, and ask for status updates about topics you’ve covered in the past.
  2. Find reasons to reach out via email. Legitimate business reasons are the most authentic. For instance, sign up for their distribution list and forward them any newsletter that has details of interest to you with a comment about what’s going on in their firm. You could also set up a Google Alert so when something comes through that warrants a congratulation or an inquiry, you can forward the article with your thoughts. On the more manufactured but fun side of outreach, consider birthdays, half-birthdays, and the anniversary of your first meeting or phone call.
  3. Leverage snail mail. Send your contact a book you think they’ll enjoy, a printout of an article, or something torn from a good old-fashioned magazine with a brief handwritten comment. Just think of their glee when they open their mailbox and find something addressed to them that’s not a bill!
  4. When you ARE in proximity. Go ahead and meet for coffee or a bite. You can even arrange a lunch to introduce contacts to each other.

The #1 rule of remote networking is to commit to it! It’s even more important for you to block out time, schedule-in your networking outreach, and ignore your brain when it says “do it later”. As a follow-up to these rules, my next article will explore managing the 80-percenters.

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Table Mates: The Dos and Don’ts of Interacting With Your Waiter

A successful business meal can be equated to a delicate dance being performed exquisitely. The three dancers are the meal host, the guests(s), and the server(s). The dance is their seasoned, polite and attentive interactions that allow the meal to run seamlessly, with just the right amount of focus allocated to business conversation vs dining. Cutting into this dance without knowing the steps will inevitably spoil its rhythm, defeating the purpose of the gathering. My advice to you as a former restaurateur is to practice your steps, and when necessary, allow the server to take the lead.

“Would You Like Some Karma With Your Espresso?”

The restaurant server has a specific job to do, which reaches far beyond acting as our “servant”. In the days before Top Chef and Steve Dublanica’s Waiter Rant, I worked as a restaurant server as well as an owner, where I witnessed high-powered business people and celebs galore not always grasping this concept. The resulting “wait staff karma” was never pretty, lending cautionary insight to the story. Plain and simple: Mistreating a restaurant server is more likely to end badly for the guest than for the server. Here’s a related true story:

When Cooper worked for a major investment bank, one of his money managers invited a huge pending client for dinner to celebrate the seemingly done deal. The next morning, the “client” called Cooper directly and said he couldn’t in good conscience invest his money with him. Cooper was shocked! When he asked why, the gentleman said it was due to how rudely the money manager treated the wait staff at the dinner meeting. The money manager was sacked.

And Another….

A frustrated wait staffer had been dealing with a belligerent, abusive business meal host, who attempted to “entertain” his guests at the server’s expense. In a strange twist of fate, when settling up after the meal, all three of the man’s credit cards were declined. Can you imagine the embarrassment in front of the big shots he was trying to impress? Only over a glass of wine later that evening did the server confess to me that, in an extreme but not inconceivable move, she’d never even attempted to process the credit cards!

Show Me You Care

When a little bit of mindfulness and a whole lot of integrity are parts of the formula, our interactions with wait staffs can have magical outcomes, likened to synchronized teamwork. Let me equip you with my business dining checklist…a code of etiquette, if you will, that will ensure your business meals will run like well-oiled machines, and your business dealings will have fruitful results:

-Be alert and pause your conversation each time the server approaches your table. It shouldn’t take the clearing of a throat to round up the party’s attention. A good trick to get others in your party to comply is to begin to turn yourself toward the server as he or she approaches.

-Make true eye contact with the server from the start. This will establish a connection and increase the chances you’ll be able to catch an eye later….like when you’ll need a new napkin.

-Instead of having the server repeat their list, listen the first time to the salad dressing, bread, and starch choices. Just think about how careless you would come across in front of others, having not paid attention.

-If you’ve moved your bread plate in front of you, move it out of the way (back to the left) as food arrives. Often both of the server’s hands are full when approaching the table, and your attention to this detail will lend more to the rhythm of their service than you might realize.

-Don’t reach for a dish that the waiter is attempting to serve unless the waiter signals for your help. You know the drill….it will likely be too hot to touch and lead to a small disaster.

-Don’t stack your used plates.

-Don’t raise your glass up for wine to be poured.

-Don’t shove an empty bottle upside down into the ice bucket….this is the ultimate rookie move (See my rundown on wine service for all the juicy details).

Fellow servers: what can you add to the list to help diners help you?

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When Things Go Wrong at the Business Meal, Part Three: Mistaken Orders

At this point, it may have become my most resonant motto: When dining out for business, the occasion is not about the meal….it’s about the business. However, it’s pretty hard to ignore the “meal” part of the equation. This is after all an occasion for ingesting food, which, depending on the individual, can range from being a health/allergy concern, to a personal sacrament, to a chance to acquire some protein during a rigidly-scheduled work day. With this in mind, let’s finally delve into the familiar sphere of food service slip-ups and their most realistic solutions from the business diner’s perspective.

When Food is Not The Focus For You

For those of us business diners who are not picky eaters or cursed by food allergies, a good general rule when the wrong dish arrives for you at the table, and it’s established that no one else ordered it, is to simply let it go. Case in point: You order a roasted half chicken, salmon arrives at your place setting, and you don’t dislike salmon. The appropriate reaction: Enjoy your salmon. This will save time, eliminate fuss, and keep the focus on the business at hand.

The Work-Around

Another common food service blunder is when the correct dish arrives, but is not cooked to order. This, too, requires little or no fuss on your part, and need not even be made public. Silently work around the mistake, and keep the conversation on track. Did you order a steak cooked medium-rare, only to find the meat medium-well? You know the drill: The rarest part is in the middle, so start eating there. Did your meat arrive too rare? Work from the outside in. Is your pasta over-cooked? Just be thankful your sweetbreads were not under-cooked, and dig in.

When Food is a Real Concern For You

For the rest of us (myself included), sometimes receiving the wrong dish is just not a tolerable scenario. Consider that salmon situation. Perhaps seafood often makes you ill, or like me, you are turned off by fattier fish. How do you correct the mistake without disrupting the rhythm of the business meeting or the meal? The best solution here is to send back your salmon, but not necessarily for what you originally ordered. Ask instead for an item that’s quick to prepare (soup is a perfect contender), as this will allow you to be served more quickly and finish your meal in sync with the rest of your party.

Put The Odds in Your Favor

Although steak, pork chops, rack of lamb, lobster, and linguine with clam sauce all sound delightful, they are far from practical at business meals. Think realistically: If the dish has a high probability of being wrongly prepared, or requires a bib and wet napkins to consume, it might be a good idea to steer clear. More practical options include chopped salads, chowder, risotto, gnocchi, rigatoni, penne, scallops, and any other hands-free, single utensil dish that sounds tasty. Simple problems often have simple solutions.

Have you any recommendations for troubleshooting food-service slip-ups? Reply with your ideas. Click here to read Part 2 of When Things Go Wrong.

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When Things Go Wrong at the Business Meal, Part Two: Hidden Opportunities

Even when all goes smoothly at the business meal, and all the pieces fall into place…never discount the potential for the classic “uncomfortable situation” to suddenly arise. A favorite of mine is the ever-popular “spinach-stuck-in-the-teeth situation”. Who hasn’t been a victim of unknowingly sporting a distracting leafy green morsel in their smile while trying to impress? But the more relevant question for you is: who hasn’t been sitting across from the person sporting the spinach? Believe it or not, there is a Strategic Dining℠ etiquette guideline for this scenario. Before I unveil it, check out the following “spinach-in-the-teeth” statistics, and decide where you fall in.

According to Career Builder:

  • 66 % of colleagues at your same level say they would tell you about the spinach
  • 60 % say they would alert only a lower-level worker
  • Only 49 % would tell a higher-up.

I contend that you should feel free to tell someone when they have spinach stuck in their teeth (or an herb, or any other clinging edible offender), not just to save the person further embarrassment, but as an opportunity to build rapport and trust!

I offer my reasoning in this short video: The philosophical side of spinach in the teeth

Do you tell someone when they have spinach in their teeth?

Above all, you might first consider whom you are spending time with!

Click here to read Part One of “When Things Go Wrong”.

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When Things Go Wrong at the Business Meal, Part One: Tabletop Navigation

Business meals are ideal venues to build rapport, develop business and maintain your network. At Goldie’s Table Matters we work to educate business professionals through workshops in Strategic Dining℠, ensuring they maximize the opportunities presented at the restaurant table.

Only when second-guessing is eliminated can attention be paid to the business at hand: Building relationships at the table. Of course, understanding everyone’s roles at the table and becoming mindful of environmental and situational scenarios are important pieces in the puzzle as well. As a host, connecting these pieces with grace and precision will bring fond results.

However, all precautions heeded, business dining still isn’t a slam dunk. The restaurant business is a human business after all, subject to human error. Add a dash of ethnic, cultural or traditional contrast into the mix and the uncertainty factor inflates. Bottom line: Things WILL go wrong….a predicament that should leave you with the supplemented mission of being responsive as opposed to reactionary in light of the uncontrollable.

This series of blog posts will explore questions of etiquette faux pas, food challenges, and human uncertainty in the business dining setting. It is also an open forum for you to submit your own situations, experiences, and questions.

BMWs For Everyone!

Let’s begin with basic table etiquette, or what I like to call Tabletop Navigation. As you may already know, your bread plate is to the left of your main plate, and your water glass is to the right (think Bread-Main-Water, or BMW). Invariably, others won’t know this trick, and occasionally will claim your bread plate or water glass as their own. The two most common reactions to this unintentional faux pas are vocally correcting the fellow diner (never a good idea, as this can breed embarrassment), or following suit (which in turn leaves someone else with no bread plate). The appropriate solution should instead be a responsive approach. For instance, any plate presented can double as a bread plate. Try using the rim of your salad plate to rest your bread upon. Or, simply skip the bread this time. Remember, the business meal is about business first; there’s no time to become fussy about bread-related details.

A Watered-Down Response

While bread plate infractions have simple solutions, losing your water glass to your neighboring diner will require some polite creativity. Discretely asking the server for a replacement glass of water is not always failsafe. The seasoned diner in you should consider aiming higher by asking for a club soda instead. This smooth move is a considerate gesture in disguise, as it brings NO attention to the fact that you’ve been shortchanged by the offender. Additionally, other savvy diners at the table who are tuned-into B-M-W etiquette will quietly grant you points for your thoughtfulness.

A Word From YOU

The most fascinating part of navigating through the business meal is troubleshooting unforeseen obstacles on-the-fly. The possibilities are plenty, and can even be inadvertently comical. Feel free to respond with examples of your encounters and your questions about how to handle them. I’ll get the conversation started with a common favorite: What do you do when someone at your table has spinach caught in their teeth?

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