Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Networking Cop

I was driving home from the store this evening and happened to see someone pulled over to the side of the rode "chatting with" one of Ann Arbor's finest. She didn't look happy about it for some reason. I can't understand it since it looked like he was giving her a greeting card of some kind. What a nice guy!

Of course, our good men and women in blue are just there to make sure everyone follows the law so that we all stay safe -- a noble and necessary calling -- one for which they rarely receive thanks. As I continued to drive and reflect on their role in society, my mind turned to thoughts of whimsy. What if we had "networking enforcement officers"? What kind of tickets would they write? Here's a few that I came up with:

Parking Ticket. This would be issued to anyone at a networking event who chooses to grab a seat at a table without first completing their networking goals. This is a relatively minor offense, but if you get too many of them, your networking license can be revoked.

Speeding. Anyone who tried to ask for some benefit which exceed the relationship that they had established so far would be in danger of receiving one of these bad boys. The most egregious offenders would be the folks who ask for a high-level referral five minutes after meeting someone.

Passing in a No Passing Zone. Handing out your card when the other person didn't specifically ask for it is another of those minor offenses that the networking police are watching for. They also look for anyone trying to hand out multiple copies of their card to the same person.

Not coming to a complete stop. The social butterflies (or social climbers) who are always looking for someone better to talk to (or be seen talking to) collect the largest number of these citations. Part of the networking officers training is to watch for the tell-tale "looking over the other person's shoulder" which usually indicates an infraction in progress.

Networking while trying to influence. NWI's are the nice way of saying that instead of networking and trying to establish new long-term relationships, the perpetrator in question was trying to sell. This is definitely one of the more serious violations. Getting only one or two of these can result in your right to network being revoked for an extended period.

Illegal "You" turn. The networker who earns this ticket has a problem. They only want to talk about themselves. Whenever the conversation drifts to the other person, they try to turn the "you" back into "me". Violators of this particular statute soon discover that they are alone on the road  since no one can hang around for long with the conversational whiplash their networking can cause.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we don't have any networking enforcement officers showing up at the various events around town. I guess that means that we are going to have to police ourselves.

And, no, that doesn't mean you get to taser the next person who cuts in line at the buffet table. Don't worry, they're already setting their own punishment.

Photo credit: elvis santana

Monday, August 30, 2010

You're Never Far From the Ones You Love

Yesterday was my forty-third birthday. We didn't make a particularly big deal out of it. I was scheduled to teach Karate in the morning and again in the afternoon. Then we went down to visit my mom down in Perrysburg. We had a few snacks and then later went over to a friend's for a party. The party wasn't for me. It was one that she and her husband throw every year at this time.

Five or ten years ago, I might have been a little upset that no one made a big deal about My Special Day. You know what, though? Just spending a little quiet time with my family was quite nice. On top of that, the party was full of people whom I had met at one point or another in my networking practice. I couldn't walk into a new room without someone wishing me a happy birthday and giving me a firm handshake or a hug.

Thinking about it now it makes me realize that this is yet another benefit of our networking practice. Of course, many of us network for business purposes -- to bring in new clients or to help find solutions when the world presents a challenge or two. We also can depend on them for personal issues -- helping us find a good doctor when we are feeling down or stepping up to mentor our children in the pursuit of their goals. On top of all of that, though, networking can provide us with what we might think of as an extended family structure.

Depending on how wide we cast our net, we may discover that we have "family" throughout our community, our state, or even the world. I don't know about you, but that actually fills me with a little bit of hope. Who knows? Maybe if enough people developed supportive networks of friends and business connections we might even be able to solve some of the problems plaguing this old world.

We can hope.

Photo credit: Billy Alexander

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Attention vs Approachability

Hi, I'm Bob. Can I be your new
accountant? Hello?
Tim Householder, a friend of mine and owner of Timothy Wells Photography, commented on yesterday's post over on The Reluctant Networker Facebook page. He made a good point that there may be communities in which being uncomfortably outrageous is the norm. In fact, those who don't fit that mold would probably be seen as aloof to the other members.

To a certain extent I agree with this. In general, of course, you must know your audience. Know who you are trying to reach (and who will introduce you to that target) and make sure that whatever you do to stand out fits within the boundaries of propriety as defined by both groups. For example, if you want a group of lawyers to introduce you do the accountants they know, you should probably hold off on the rainbow-colored wig and clown nose (unless you are marketing your clown services). Conversely, showing up in a formal conservative power suit when you are trying to connect with a group of artists might not be the best way to go, either.

The other issue to examine is what the ultimate goal is. In this case we are looking at this from the point of view of good networking practice. In that respect, our goal is to be as approachable as possible. We want people to feel completely comfortable walking up to us and starting a conversation. Anything which detracts from that goal doesn't make for good networking.

Now, those behaviors which exceed good networking aren't necessarily useless. Being "inappropriately remarkable" can lead to getting attention, which may serve your purposes in other ways. I'm just saying that if your goal is to establish and nurture long-term relationships, the activities you choose should fit into those that your target would find acceptable.

Ultimately, you have to decide how well you want to fit into the mold defined by your target market. At some point you may even be established to the point that you can safely ignore the mores of any given group. Until you reach that point though, remember your probably better off sticking with approachable rather than attention-getting.

Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Being Remarkable or Ridiculous?

Lately, Kaylie and I have been strolling over to the library in the evening. They have an area full of toys and computers just for kids that she loves to play with. They also have other kids playing there and Kaylie loves other kids.

Well, tonight was a particularly busy evening at our branch. There were a ton of kids in the play area. At one point I glanced up from my book and saw my sweet daughter in the middle of all the kids, playing quite contentedly. The only problem was that the "middle" happened to be sitting on top of the table that everyone else was sitting around. Leave it to me to spoil all her fun, but I decided rather than some sort of incident where she accidentally trod on someone's fingers, it was the better part of valor for her to get out of the middle of things, as it were.

This made me think about some people's approach to networking.

We've talked before about "wearing your flair". This is the idea that you can display some small symbol of your personal passions for the purpose of sparking conversation. Unfortunately, some folks take it a step too far and end up quashing that spark because their efforts to "stand out" are just designed to make them the center of attention...

... at any cost.

One gentleman of my acquaintance, a life coach, apparently following the rubric of "no publicity is bad publicity" intentionally goes out of his way to be outrageous. His business cards even sport a background picture of his face peering out at you. His stated goal is to be remembered, no matter what.

Maybe that works for him. Maybe his target market expects something like this. I'll tell you what, though, I would hesitate to recommend him to any one of my connections. Think about it. When you recommend someone, you are effectively lending them your reputation. Are you going to feel comfortable attaching your reputation to someone who may embarrass you with their antics -- who indeed may (without intending to) damage the relationships which you may have spent years to build?

Probably not.

Now most of us won't have this issue. Be aware, though, of those who have decided to take this tack. They're probably not the best person to bring into your inner circle. In fact, they may be only a waste of your precious networking hours. Steer clear until they are ready to play the networking game as seriously as you do.

Photo credit: IZATRINI.com

Friday, August 27, 2010

Self-conscious Networking

Martin's networking style certainly
got him noticed!
See if you recognize yourself in this scenario.

When I first started attending networking events, I always felt unsure of myself. I worried about what people would think of me. Would they know that I was a complete fraud and without any confidence at all? What would they think of what I was wearing? What would I say to them?

Oh, my goodness.

By the time I actually walked through the door (usually late), I was so keyed up that I was just about ready to explode. Then some poor slob would ask me about what I did for a living and (after taking a deep breath) I was off to the races. I would talk about what I did, who I did it for, what my successes were, what I could do for them, the colors we used, the subcontractors I could call on, the folks for whom I had been a subcontractor, what kind of car I drove, where I lived, and where I had gone on vacation last summer.

Then I took a second breath.

OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit -- though if you ask that poor slob, it might not be by much -- but you get my drift. My own self-conscious self-involvement caused me to focus on my own needs and not on those of my conversational partner. Now, since you are an accomplished networker already, you may have no idea what I'm talking about. In that case, you might want to pass this advice along to someone who needs it, but here are a few things to remember.

  1. Regarding your outfit, no one cares. Of course it should be clean, neat, and completely buttoned up, we still want to make a good first impression, after all. Beyond that, though, just leave the gorilla costume at home, and you will be fine.
  2. Regarding what they think of you, they don't. In general, most people you meet are more concerned with what you think of them. If you walk in and assume that everyone is just as terrified as you are, you won't be far from the truth. Just don't spook them and you should all be fine.
  3. Regarding what you should say to them, as little as possible. Your best conversations at a networking event will involve you speaking for around thirty percent of the time, and a lot of that will be questions you are asking them. Asking questions and focusing on listening to their answers will save you from talking their ear off. Remember, no one wants to walk away from you if they are the ones talking.
Remember at a networking event, no matter what you would like to think, the conversation should never be about you. Make them the center of attention by just asking questions (which are a lot easier to prepare than any long speeches about you and what you do). If you can do that, you'll be surprised at the number of people who will be interested in getting together to continue the conversation later.

Where they will be a lot more likely to be actually interested in what you have to say.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rev the Engines and Draw Some Attention

This morning I met with my good friend Doug Hockstad of the University of Michigan's Tech Transfer Office. Doug and I have known each other for a while now. We are both alumni of the Leadership Ann Arbor program (class of '07 rocks!) and he and I are now in a Mastermind group together. The last time we spoke he was eagerly anticipating a motorcycle road trip/vacation with a friend of his and this morning I got to hear about some of the details.

One of the things that struck me about his story was when he was telling me about all of the people he talked with along the way. For some reason the motorcycle acted as a magnet for everyone who was riding, had ridden or wanted to ride a bike of their own. He told me about one septuagenarian who was admiring the ride and lamenting that he had had to give up his own bike several years earlier.

Now, Doug wasn't in the middle of a networking event, but what happened to him was a great example of what I call "wearing your flair" -- having or wearing some visible example of your interests. The whole idea is to draw people to you, to give them something to start talking about other than the weather, to make you more than just your business -- essentially to make you a person that other people will find interesting and worth knowing.

So, while I wouldn't recommend riding your motorcycle into the next Chamber networking lunch, I would recommend finding some appropriate way to show off what's currently important to you. The conversations it engenders will feel a lot more like making friends and probably end up being more fun and profitable in the long run.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do You Know the Unspoken Rules?

We're here for the Chamber
bowling night!
I was reading posts over on "Debby Peters, Networking Guru". She had a really good one on understanding what unwritten rules visitors to your group or event might run afoul of, and how your group would deal with these violations. Check out her post for more details, but this has put me in mind as to our behaviors toward the visitors that we have personally invited. How can we make their time easier and more comfortable?

How can we help them want to come back?

When it comes to inviting a guest to attend an event with us, be sure to help them prepare as much as possible. You might want to tell them about the following:

  • Date and time. I know this might seem to be an obvious one, but go beyond the obvious. Do a lot of people tend to show up early in order to network before the official event? Do they stay late? If your guest only allots the time necessary for the advertised schedule, they may be missing out on some of the best networking.
  • Location. Another obvious one, but you should also include any quirks you are aware of with respect to the location. Is there parking available at the venue or will they have to park down the street? Will there be a charge for parking? How long will it take them to get there? Is there any construction along their route which might delay them?
  • Dress code. There's little that will make someone feel like more of an outsider than if their level of sartorial splendor doesn't match that of the rest of the group. Why there was that time I showed up in that pink bunny costume... but that's a story for another day.
  • Agenda. Knowing when things are going to be happening can go a long way toward helping a visitor feel more comfortable. This is especially true for those groups and events which follow a very specific schedule. This is also helpful if your guest can't be there for the whole event. Letting them know what they will be missing will let them decide whether they can afford to be absent.
  • Special preparations. I attended a networking meeting as a guest one time where one participant was chosen at random to present a challenge to the group for a round of peer advising. Now, I wasn't selected for that honor, but the fact that I was ready with an issue made me feel a lot less likely to be embarrassed for lack of preparedness. In another situation, our local Chamber has a lunch-time networking program in which they have a version of "pass the mic" where each person gets to make a self-introduction. The trick is that you can only say your name, your company and ten additional words about what you do. Having to come up with those ten words off the top of the head probably added some stress to more than a few peoples' lives.
  • Materials. I don't usually carry a lot of business cards with me (since I only give them out to people who ask -- rarely more than four or five at a given event). Unfortunately, one event I attended expected you to pass a stack of cards around the table, so each person could take one. Fortunately for me, one of the organizers had a sheet of blank cards I could fill out to augment my meager store.
  • Forbidden behaviors. I know there are some groups out there which don't allow you to pass your card during their meetings. Others don't permit a guest to sign in without an accompanying member. Whatever your groups proscribed activities are, be sure to inform your guest. No one enjoys the results of stepping on another person's taboos.
The main thing to remember is that you want your guest to feel as comfortable as possible -- or at least as comfortable as they can be while walking into a room full of strangers. Giving them the lay of the land before they walk in the door can go a long way toward easing their apprehensions. Just a little bit of effort on your part can be the difference between a one-timer and a life-timer.

Photo credit: Paul Dixon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Myth: Referrals Are All About Delivering the Contract

A vast majority of people network primarily in order to increase their business. While they achieve this (properly) by seeking to be of service to others first, their overarching goal is to bring in more jobs/projects/money. That's fine. The challenge this presents is that when it comes to referrals, many people assume that the only good referral is one which has a contract as the outcome. That being the case, many end up feeling frustrated that they can't help their networking partners.

But networking is more than just handing the other person a signed contract. Let's take a look at some areas which can provide counter-examples to this myth.
  1. Getting the word out. Staying in the realm of business development, you can provide your contact with opportunities to market their business. I've had networking friends refer chances to appear on local radio programming, write for our local online newspaper, and speak in front of groups -- all of which may lead to work someday, but for now serve to get my name out there. I'm just as appreciative of these opportunities as I would have been if they had sent me a new client.
  2. Personal needs. When we were looking for a coach to help us prepare for the birth of our daughter, Kaylie, friends referred us to a great service. Four months after Kaylie showed up, another friend put us in touch with our nanny, Beth. For those of us with children, you know how grateful we are to anyone who helps us provide a better life for them. For us, that's as good as money in the bank.
  3. Business needs. Now maybe your networking partner can't refer business your way, but what if they could put you in touch with someone who could help you arrange financing for your next round of growth? Or someone who could find you new office space to support that growth? Need a new accountant? Would you rather consult the phone book or someone in your trusted network for a recommendation?
These are just a few ideas of referrals that extend beyond the traditional idea of delivering business to your connections. Explore the options. Find out what your network could provide. Heck, go out on a limb and ask them how you can help. Remember, just the act of helping them succeed, no matter what form it takes, is the fundamental "payment" you make in networking. So, help where you can and let them decide what it's worth.

Photo credit: danjaeger

Monday, August 23, 2010

Planting the Garden

OK, sure, it's kind of an odd time of year to think about planting a garden. Here in Michigan, most of the gardens are a bit past their prime and are starting the slow slide toward the Autumn die-off. Still, seeing all of the plants putting out seed pods has reminded me once again how much networking and gardening have in common. In particular, I'm thinking about the parallels between the different types of plantings and their corresponding networking connections.
  • Food crops. Whether vegetables in the garden or fruit trees in the orchard, these are the ones that directly put food on the table. In networking, these are the folks who either directly buy from you or can refer people who want to buy from you.
  • Ornamentals. Flowers and foliage of all descriptions, not to eat, but to nourish the soul in other ways. These would correspond to your contacts who provide you with opportunities other than strictly business. Maybe they can recommend good hotels for your next trip. Perhaps they can write a reference for your son to get into college. They might even advise you on business issues with which they have experience.
  • Grown from seed. Pretty self-explanatory on the gardening side. With your network, these would be the folks you meet and develop without an introduction. As with gardening, it takes a lot longer to cultivate these specimens.
  • Rooted stock. If you've ever purchased a tomato plant, instead of growing it from seed, that's what I mean. The equivalent networking connection would be someone whom you meet through one of your existing connections. In both cases, it gives you a jump on achieving the desired result with a lot less work.
  • Perennials. Plants that come back, year after year, would correspond to your long-term connections that continue to pass you referrals. They might not always be flashy, but they are there for you for the long haul.
  • Annuals. While they can have a longer and more colorful bloom season, these plants fade away at the end of the season. "Annual" networkers can put you in touch with people right away, but for whatever reason, they aren't big on maintaining their relationships which tend to fade fairly quickly unless you do something extraordinary to keep in touch yourself.
  • Weeds. These are the folks who don't so much network as look around for others to take advantage of. They are best removed from your network as soon as you discover them. All they do is take up time and space better devoted to those with whom you would like to establish and build mutually beneficial relationships.
Of course, as with any garden, your network is best served by a good mixture. You want your "perennial food crops" who keep passing you good business, year after year, but sometimes just as important are those "annual ornamentals", who can put you in touch with a great venue for your next meeting. Don't shun anyone (but the weeds) from your networking garden and you should be reaping a rewarding harvest for many more years.

Photo credit: Faey Szeuw

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Don't Do It Yourself

Just because you can, doesn't mean
you should
I don't know if anyone else is like this, but I know I, at least, have a bad case of Do-It-Yourself. If I think I have the faintest chance of being able to take care of the situation without asking someone else for help, I will -- even if it makes absolutely no sense for me to do so. This can make networking a bit challenging. After all, while part of networking is finding ways to serve your network, the other half of the equation is being willing to accept their help in return. After all, isn't that what a referral is?

So, as they say, the first step is acknowledging you have a problem. Here are a few warning signs.
  1. When someone asks how they can help you, you don't ask for what you need, even if they are the perfect person to ask.
  2. You spend hours of your time (which you could be billing at $100/hour in your business) on a task which you could hire someone to do for $50.
  3. You would rather have an "underwhelming" website that you built yourself instead of paying to have a Web designer build a truly professional site (that might convince prospects that you are actually serious about your business).
If this describes you, then, trust me, I understand. Now it's up to you to break yourself of the habit. Sit down right now and come up with two or three responses to the question, "How can I help you?" They don't have to be particularly big things. Maybe you are going on vacation and you'd like to know what the best restaurants in Montreal are. Perhaps you are looking for a venue to hold a kids birthday party. Maybe you just want to find some speaking opportunities. Whatever it is, pick something. Then, the next time someone asks, be sure to let them know.

Yes, we've grown up on the myth of the rugged individualist, and I guess that's still a path we can take. The challenge is that we'll spend a lot of time working on things which could be ours for the asking if we just let our network know what we seek. If you really want to succeed, the next time someone asks how they can help, do something that will really make you stand out from the crowd...

...actually tell them.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Be a Joiner, X, Y, and Z

OK, we finally made it to the last day of our week-long list of attributes for networking groups which we may be considering. We've looked at size, location, membership, and perks. Now, we're down to the final three. Remember that first and foremost, the group must support your networking goals. If they can't do that at least, then you shouldn't even be considering it as a part of your networking efforts. These considerations primarily help you to decide if you will be comfortable and able to support the group in its mission, whatever it is.

Now, for our final three.

Xenophilia. OK, you had to know that "X" would be a toughie. Xenophilia is the love of the foreign or the outsider. In the context of a group, how well does your group work with outside individuals and agencies? For example, if you are attending a speaking event, will the presenter be from within the ranks of the group or will it be an external expert? Both are OK, you just need to be aware of how this trait matches up with your desires.

Year-round. What sort of schedule does the group keep. For networking to be powerful, you really need to maintain it on a regular basis. If the group goes on hiatus for a couple of months in the summer, how will that affect your efforts at consistency? Will you be able to find alternative venues with which you can fill in your schedule? Or will you just assume that a two-month break in your networking won't be a problem for you?

Zealousness. How excited are the members to be a part of the group? Really, for the group to be as strong as possible, you need to have at least a core group who are true supporters. If most members are just showing up without an intention of actually pitching in to make the group stronger, then the organization is likely to fail in the not-too-distant future. If that is the case, you have to decide if you want to be the one who steps up to re-invigorate the membership.

There's one thing I should mention when you are using these ideas to evaluate a group. Certainly you can use the attributes to disqualify the group from consideration. There is nothing wrong with seeking out the optimal group for you. If, however, with the exception of one or two of these traits, the organization looks like a good fit for you, you might want to ask yourself if you could serve the group by addressing those areas where you perceive a need. Assuming you treat the existing members and leadership with respect, you will go a long way toward securing a much stronger relationship with the other members of the group.

And that will go a long way toward reaching your goals of networking success.

Photo credit: Pawel Kryj

Friday, August 20, 2010

Be a Joiner, U, V, and W

OK, we're entering the final turn on this weird and wonderful odyssey to define some of the other characteristics of groups which we should consider when we are thinking about joining up. Of course, we are always looking for fertile ground for our networking, but beyond that we need to make sure that this is an environment in which that networking will be possible.

So, on with the next three.

User-friendly. As a computer programmer by training, I know that user-friendliness is about helping the person sit at the keyboard know what to do next, almost intuitively. For groups, the same holds true. Primarily this is the role of communications and marketing within the group. After all, it's hard to network when you don't know when they are holding the events. To that end, check to make sure you can use the group's website and that it has the information you are going to need about upcoming programming. Do they have a newsletter? While you can do without one, it sure does help remind us when new opportunities are coming down the pike.

Visibility. Is the group a viable part of the community as a whole or does it tend to focus more inwardly? Both can be valid, depending on the group you are joining. A Chamber of Commerce should probably have ties to the region it serves. For a Web technology users group, the external community aspect isn't nearly as important.

Welcoming. We've already talked about the importance of having new faces in the group. In order to encourage this, the group should know how to make guests feel welcome. A welcomed guest is far more likely to stick around and become a new member. Does the group have a formal welcoming committee? Are their people at events assigned to help newcomers feel more comfortable? Does the group follow up with guests to see how the group can further help them?

We've hit a lot of attributes so far (twenty-three of them!). Again, they aren't all equally important, but each should be considered with respect to any group you might join. In fact, if you are dissatisfied with any of your current memberships, you may want to look at some of these concepts with respect to them. Maybe you can help pinpoint what is putting you off and then you can decide if you want to move along to a different group which fits you better, or roll up your sleeves and try to help the group find a new path.

Photo credit: Keith Tyler

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Be a Joiner, P through T

We've been considering the various attributes of networking groups other than networking over the past several days. Taking your time to commit to a group is important since you form the best connections over the long term and you don't want to spend your precious time on a group which doesn't fit. As always, many of these qualities should be secondary to whether a group will meet your networking goals. Still, consider them as they will contribute to long-term success.

Price. I know it's supposedly crass to focus on money, but the membership dues for an organization are definitely a consideration. A group might be otherwise perfect for you, but if it costs more than you are willing and able to pay over the long run, then you run the risk of having to leave before you've had a chance to reap the rewards of membership. On the other hand, even if a group is free, it might not be worth your time to attend. Make sure the price of admission is worth whatever value you think you will take away.

Quick off the Mark. Some groups have a probationary period before you get to enjoy the perks of membership. In others, you are a full member as soon as you pay your dues. Each tends to result in a different culture. Those that have made it through a probation tend to be more committed to the group which results in a much more stable population. Those that don't have that barrier to entry will tend to have a more fluid membership. You'll have to decide which works better for your needs.

Rules. Every group is going to have its own rules for its members. Some groups will require that you bring guests to the events. Others will require that you pass referrals at every meeting. Still others might actively forbid promoting your business during meetings. Before you join, make sure you know what the requirements are and make sure you are willing to live up to them.

Speaking Opportunities. Now, by speaking opportunities, I mean more than just the opportunity to give an educational presentation or seminar to the other group members. Here I am talking about any chances to stand up and speak before the group. In some cases it might be a "pass the mic" situation where you get to announce your name and your business. In others it might be the opportunity to give a ten minute (or longer) presentation on your business and who your perfect referral would be. Find out what mechanisms are in place to let the rest of the members know who you are and what you do.

Target Market. Does the group contain members of your target market? Great. There's a chance to serve them and hopefully gain some business. Even better would be if the group contained members who sell to your target market (and who don't compete with you). These could be some of your best referral partners.

I'll bet you never expected that there could be so many qualities to consider when picking out a networking group. While not all of them are of equal importance (and none are as important as whether the group will help you achieve your networking goals), be aware of those attributes which would be deal-breakers for you.

In the long run, you are far better off connecting with a group which is the best "fit" for you.

Photo credit: foxumon

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Be a Joiner, K through O

This is the next installment of the continuing series of the various aspects you should look at when you are considering joining a networking group. Of course you should make sure that the networking opportunities will support your ultimate goals. At the same time, it can be the other attributes which make your membership in a group into a long-term success.

On with our list!

Kindred Spirits. If the general membership has a general life philosophy which is radically at odds with your own, it can make networking within the group very uncomfortable. Since, in general, we tend to avoid those things which cause discomfort, that doesn't bode well for your long-term success as a member of the group. Meeting new people with varied viewpoints can make our lives exciting. Dealing with folks who don't share our underlying values can sometimes challenge us more than we really need to be challenged.

Leadership Opportunities. We've talked about this before. Successful networking in a group requires that you do more than just show up. The best opportunities, of course, are leadership positions. Now, you probably won't be able to take on a role like this right away, but you should at least be aware of what opportunities might be available to you as you become more integrated into the community.

Membership. By membership here, I'm referring to actual numbers. How many members does the group have? Smaller groups can make it a lot easier to meet people, but may have a limited variety of people to get to know. Larger groups can have the opposite situation -- a wider variety, but more difficult to develop strong connections due to the "lost in the crowd" factor. Neither is necessarily good or bad, but you have to decide where you would be more comfortable and get the results you are seeking.

New Faces. In order for groups to remain vibrant and healthy, they need to have new members periodically. Without the new members, the best a group can hope for is to stagnate. The worst that can happen is that there will be no replacements for those members who leave for one reason or another and eventually the group will cease to exist. Does the group you are visiting have guests at every meeting? Is the group growing or shrinking?

Offers. Many groups offer discounts and other benefits to their users. Sometimes this can actually add up to a significant amount. Our local Chamber offers discounts on workers compensation insurance. Depending on the size of the business, it might even be enough to cover the annual fee to maintain the Chamber membership. I wouldn't choose a networking group solely on the added benefits, but it's always nice to know what you have available.

Hopefully some of these attributes are giving you ideas of what to look for in the groups you think you'd like to join. While the networking is an important aspect of membership, these other benefits can sweeten the deal considerably.

Photo credit: Gabriella Fabbri

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Be a Joiner, F through J

I had so much fun yesterday coming up with a short list of reasons to join groups other than strict networking that I thought I would continue the list again today. In fact, I may stretch my creativity a bit to see if I can complete the whole alphabet (fortunately this gives me a couple of days to come up with something for "X".

So, let's look at the next five reasons.

Fun. Yeah, I know we call it networking, but if you aren't having a good time, too, you are going to be far less likely to maintain an interest in the group. When you are visiting a group for the first time, ask yourself if you are having fun or even if you could have fun. If the answer is "no" then this might not be the group for you.

Goal Setting. Yesterday we talked about being part of a group to provide accountability with your goals. These same groups can help you come up with your goals in the first place. If they are really good, they will force you to be very specific when you create you goals so that you have a better chance of achieving them.

Hobbies. We so often forget that almost any group can be a good networking experience. Sure, you can network at your local marketing roundtable. You can also make great connections through your membership in the local quilters guild. One of the big benefits of doing this is you already have a personal interest in common with all of the other members -- a great way to begin a relationship.

Inspiration. We have a local group called the New Enterprise Forum. During one of their monthly meetings, a couple of people will get up and make presentations about their startup businesses. Basically they are practicing getting up in front of investors. Now, I don't always get a lot of education from their speeches, but I'll tell you that I am inspired to get to work on building my business.

Joint Venture. Most people think of networking in order to get more business clients. Some of the best results in networking, however, come from finding potential business partners. Check out the membership of a group to see if there are a few who might end up making good collaborators in future ventures.

Remember, networking groups are more than just the local Chamber or BNI chapter. Of course, no matter which group you join, it must have good networking that meets your goals. Beyond that, though, the more reasons you can find to keep coming back, the more likely it is that you will come back.

Photo credit: Bethany Carlson

Monday, August 16, 2010

Be a Joiner, A Through E

You are already a member of a few groups, both personal and professional. You joined them for the great networking and the many business opportunities which they've made available to you. After all, why else would you join a group, right?

Well, let's face it, there are groups and there are groups. Each has it's own reason for being and depending on what your needs are, one might be more productive than another for you, despite each having networking opportunities. So, what other qualities might you consider in a group?

Accountability. If you are trying to achieve particular goals in your life, whether business or personal, having a support group which can help hold you accountable is a great tool for success. Keep an eye out for groups which actually have this as a formal part of the membership. Also, make sure you feel a level of trust with the other members such that you would be willing to share your goals with them.

Brainstorming. Perhaps you've got some great goals, but you just aren't sure how to get there. This would be a great time to call upon the expertise of the group. You'd be amazed at how many solutions multiple heads can come up with. The only challenge is that you have to willing to listen.

Companionship. Especially for those of us who are self-employed, work can be a very isolating thing. Sometimes the social aspect of the group is almost as important as the referral generating parts. Look for groups with interesting members with diverse points of view.

Dedication. If you have a particular social, political, or religious crusade to which you've dedicated your time, you can leverage these pursuits by networking with others of like mind. You'll not only further the goals of your movement, but you will also be networking with individuals who already have at least one thing in common with you.

Education. Many groups specialize in their training programs. Seminars, talks, lectures, even speakers brought in as a part of regular networking events can all contribute to an atmosphere of continuing education. If you enjoy surrounding yourself with folks who enjoy continually extending their knowledge, look for groups which have such instructional opportunities as a part of their charters.

As you can see, there are a variety of reasons other than just business which could motivate you to join a particular group. Sometimes it's these secondary qualities which can make the difference with your success both as a member and as a networker.

Photo credit: Kriss Szkurlatowsk

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Which is Mightier, The Keyboard or the Pen?

During the question and answer section of my presentation at the Milan Chamber on Friday, one of the audience members asked me what my opinion of electronic versus handwritten communication mechanisms. I think it's a great question. Let's take a look at some of the different channels and see where they can be used to best advantage in our networking practice.

Facebook (et al). The various social media sites are probably the "lightest" touches of them all. For the most part, posting on these is essentially just making an announcement. Much of the "conversation" is quite public, so it is hard to establish any intimacy. Most of the sites do have the capacity to send private messages, but these are essentially just the same as e-mail. The main benefit of using these channels is, with very little effort (typing in a line or two) you can reach out to a lot of your network.

E-mail. Messages through this medium can be anything from banal to sublime. Of course, sending out a form email, an e-newsletter or (much worse) some kind of advertising won't do much to strengthen your connections. In fact, the best you can hope for is just to remind them that you exist. On the other hand, a well-crafted e-mail message which speaks from the heart can have the possibility of adding depth to an existing relationship. Unfortunately, no matter how much effort you put into the message, e-mail still has a feeling of a "quickie" note that someone jotted down in a few seconds.

Hard Copy. This could include things such as sending someone a quick "nice to meet you" note to sending them a clipping of an article you found. This probably has about the same weight as a well-written e-mail message. While you are making the effort to send some physical object to them, the types of things you are sending show that you didn't have to put that much effort into it. As with email, it can help maintain an existing relationship, but won't go much further than that to improve the quality of the connection.

Handwritten Letter. This category covers anything from a short thank you note all the way up to an in-depth expression of gratitude that the recipient will want to hang on her wall. Personally, I think the latter is where the true strength lies. Of course, sending thank you notes should just be part of what you do, but the more effort and thought -- the more of you -- you put into the handwritten message, the more likely it is that you will succeed in significantly deepening the relationship.

Sometimes your choice of mechanism may also depend on who the recipient is. Younger people tend to view the social media sites as a much more acceptable means of staying in touch while those on the other end of the age spectrum definitely prefer the physical handwritten letter. Whichever you choose, just be sure that the message is sincere and recognizes the value of the other person in your life.

Photo credit: Stephanie Hofschlaeger

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Does Size Matter?

I spoke at the Milan Chamber's networking breakfast on Friday morning. I got a warm response and met a lot of great people. Milan is a much smaller venue than my usual haunts -- the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber -- about one-tenth the size. As a result I noticed a lot of differences between the two entities -- differences which would affect how I would network depending on where I was.

Here are a few of my observations:
  • Participation. The Milan Chamber had between thirty and forty attendees at today's breakfast. That's about twenty to thirty percent of the total membership. In comparison, the Ann Arbor/Ypsi breakfast meeting is closer to ten percent. That tells me that, at least on a per capita basis, the Milan folks probably identify with their Chamber a little more. That means if I want to do business with the folks in the Milan area, I definitely need to be a part of the Chamber
  • Visibility. Because in strict numbers, the crowd was significantly smaller than the corresponding Ann Arbor events, the leadership of the Chamber was much more obvious. I ran into at least four different Board members as well as the president and outgoing vice president. I'm sure those same types of people are also present at the larger Ann Arbor breakfast, but because there are so many more people there in general, I'm less likely to see them in the crowd. Remember that the leadership tends to be the best connected in any given group. You want them in your network.
  • New Blood. Being a much smaller community, there were significantly fewer new attendees. I think this would be a serious challenge since one of the goals of attending these events is to meet new people. If I were to attend more of these, I think I would make the point to invite a guest to attend. New blood is always important, otherwise the membership at the event will begin to stagnate and can lead to...
  • Cliques. Every group of human beings has a little bit of a challenge with this. It becomes much more serious when the group is smaller. Now, I haven't had a chance to visit the Milan folks more than this one time, so I don't know if this is an issue that they have to deal with. If the attendees at your events always tend to sit with the same people at the same tables, that can pose real trouble for the group. It makes the event less appealing to newcomers. At the very least, you have to make a personal effort to cross the group boundaries. Another option is for the event organizers to use some of the networking games we've discussed to force a bit more mixing.
Networking in smaller groups has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Be aware of those differences and adjust your networking style to play to the best effect. Remember that the techniques still work. People still want to be treated well and acknowledged for the value they bring to the table. Just keep that in mind and a small group can bring you just as much benefit as being in a larger one.

Perhaps even more.

Photo credit: Leslie Watts

Friday, August 13, 2010

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I always loved the old "Cheers" theme song, "Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name..." It's a great sentiment for a neighborhood hangout, but how does it do for networking?

I was at an event today where I had already met every single person in the room at some point or another. So, since networking events are really best used to meet new people, was my attendance a waste of time?


First of all, the informational content of the meeting more than made it worthwhile for me to be there. I figure any gathering which sees me heading back to the office with pages of notes can't be all bad. Beyond that, though, the networking was still worth the price of entry.

As I mentioned, I had already met everyone in the room. I hadn't, however, really gotten to know them all. There were one or two with whom I was able to chat in order to find out more about them. There was another person whom I had been trying to schedule for a coffee, but we kept missing each other's calls. Fortunately, we both had our schedules in hand so were able to set up a one-to-one right then and there.

I also picked up a few cards from people I'll follow-up with in the next week or so and I got to touch base with a few folks whom I already knew well. Sometimes just those gentle touches can help extend and strengthen your connections.

Sometimes you do just want to go where everyone knows your name. Far from being a waste of time, you can still have a very productive networking event. Even if there are no barstools involved.

Photo credit: Ed Schipul

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What's Your Definition?

One of the challenges of talking about networking is the general lack of a unified definition. If one person is thinking networking is about sales and the other thinks it is about service, they might find themselves working at cross purposes. I've listed some of the definitions I've found below. You don't necessarily have to pick one of them, but you should be aware that others might have a different view from you.

Networking is...
  1. ...sales. These folks believe that their whole goal in networking is to walk away with a signed contract. While this is a perfectly reasonable definition, I think it's somewhat limiting as it ignores the possibilities of personal as well as professional support. It also tends to focus on targeting the person with whom you are talking as a prospect as opposed to a potential ambassador.
  2. ...making friends. Actually this isn't a bad one. Some folks might take issue with it because it feels too "touchy-feely" and doesn't have enough focus on business.
  3. ...the process of developing mutually beneficial long-term give and take relationships. I think this one hits the mark pretty well. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a mouthful. I wish I could find a way to boil this down into more of a succinct definition.
  4. ...marketing. Folks who follow this definition see the networking process as a means to spread the word about their product or service. That's fine, but I think it only looks at half of the equation. Good networking also means spreading the word about other people.
  5. ...the act of taking advantage of other people without them knowing about it. Honestly and truly I heard someone use this as their definition of networking. All I can say is to steer clear of these folks. They are poison.
  6. ...being on stage. I once had someone tell me that they were a "natural networker" because they always like to be the center of attention. I think they share a common blindspot with the folks who think it's all about marketing. They're missing the part where they take an interest in the other person.
  7. ...slimy. These poor souls probably "networked" at some point with the folks who take advantage of others. As a result, they may have developed a bit of a bad taste about networking.
  8. ...working the room. I've never particularly liked that phrase. As with "schmoozing", it kind of hearkens back to the old style of networking where the whole goal was to pass out as many business cards as possible. The danger in it is that it focuses only on the short term and ignores the long-term commitment necessary to develop truly profitable trust-based relationships.
  9. ...service. These folks I can work with. Their focus is on how they can serve a particular group, both in what they sell, but also in any other value they can provide. In his audio program "Networking with Millionaires", Thomas J. Stanley talks a lot about this particular view.
Whatever your definition of networking, be aware that not everyone shares it. Their underlying definitions will dictate what behaviors are acceptable. Just understand that they are working from their sets of rules and don't mean to offend you. Of course, stick with your own beliefs about the best way to do things and maybe your success will be the best argument for bringing them around to your way of thinking.

Photo credit: Jason Antony

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Speaking for Fun and Profit, Part 3: Call to Action

Give them a call to action to get them
marching in step.
In parts one and two of this series, we talked about the two main types of presentations in networking and a few techniques on how to make our speeches more enjoyable and memorable for our audiences. Now, the question is: What do you get out of it? Now you have to let them know what you want.

Here's where the call to action comes in.

If your speech is about your company, as you might give to a "closed" networking group, one of the goals is to help your audience become familiar enough with your business that they can bring you business. So, since you've helped them become knowledgeable about what you do, now is the time to tell them about who you serve. Remember to be as specific as possible. If you've done it well, they'll be walking up to you after you are done and offering to introduce you to someone in their network.

If your presentation is more of an educational piece based on your topic of expertise (for example, an IT support person talking about computer maintenance tips), then the call to action is a little trickier. Remember, this type of speech works best as a gift to your audience. You are providing value with no expectation of return. Of course, you will be establishing yourself as an expert in their eyes -- and that's important. So when our IT expert tells the crowd that they should get together with their IT person to review their security and maintenance procedures, many of them are going to realize that they don't actually have an IT person. Fortunately, the speaker is sitting right there and has already established themselves as an expert.

One other mechanism that I've seen done is something I call the "QRS Business Card". This is a neat way to keep some of the responsibility in your hands instead of waiting for someone to contact you. What you do is this: After you've taken questions, but before you tell your final story, tell your audience that you would love to continue talking with them. Ask them to take out their business cards and write the letters "QRS" on the back.  If they have a question about what you presented, have them circle the "Q". If they are completely comfortable with what you've presented, but maybe they know someone who could use your help, circle the "R" for "referral". Finally, if they are members of another group which brings in outside speakers and they would like to talk with you about such a possibility, have them circle "S".

Of course, if they don't want you calling them, ask them to just hold on to their card. Everyone else can pass them to you.

Then, call every person who passes you a card.

Speaking before an audience can be a great way to present yourself to a large group all at once. They can get to know you and start to trust that you are an expert in what you do. If you don't want them to forget about you by the time they drive back to the office, be sure to include some call to action in your presentation. The results may lead to new connections, new business, or both.

Photo credit: Mike Vam

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Speaking for Fun and Profit, Part 2: General Good Ideas

Yesterday we talked about the two types of presentations you might make in a networking context. They basically broke down to ones about your business and ones about your expertise. Each has its place. Today let's talk about some of the techniques that will help make your talk better.
  1. Avoid PowerPoint like the plague. You will almost never improve a speech by including any sort of slide show. I've seen maybe four presentations in my life which benefited from the use of PowerPoint and even those would have been just fine without it. Seriously, if your slide has bullet points or more than five or six words on it, it won't help make your talk more interesting. Instead of bullet points, you would be much better off if you...
  2. Tell stories. If you have ten minutes to talk, you can tell two or three stories. These stories should be emotionally engaging and show the points you are trying to make, instead of telling them. Think back to some of the political presentations you might have seen. The candidate could have talked about the percentage of people who lose their jobs because of some piece of legislation and no one would have listened. When they tell the story of Bob Smith, an accountant from Boise and talk about the privations he and his family are suffering, it does much more to bring the point home.
  3. Don't start with "Good morning". Or any other similar salutation. You have about twenty or thirty seconds to capture the audience's attention before they go back to checking their email on their smart phone. Saying "Hello" and how happy you are to be there kills any excitement that they might have had. Start with something that is going to grab them right away.
  4. Have someone else introduce you. Make sure you know what they are going to say and make sure it includes all of the information you want included. Don't waste your speech time on trivialities such as your name and company. That's something that should be included in the introduction.
  5. Don't end on a question. If you do plan on taking questions during your presentation, be sure to leave a little time for one last story. Make it something powerful and memorable. In fact, if you have a long presentation which includes a break, be sure to send them off to the refreshments with a good story, too.
  6. Practice. Very few people are comfortable or accomplished enough to speak truly off the cuff. Until you have reached that level of skill, practice. With enough practice you will feel more comfortable standing in front of a group and you will appear to be speaking naturally. You may even want to consider a group such as Toastmasters International in order to have a venue in which you can practice your presentations.
These are just a few techniques I've picked up from recent presentations which captured my attention. Think back to ones you really enjoyed or got a lot out of and I'm sure you'll remember one or two things that the speaker did which helped capture the audience. Practice those skills and be ready to have those eyes focused on you, too.

Now, it's great that you've got their attention. You've wasted your effort, though, if they don't have any marching orders when the speech is over. We'll talk more about that tomorrow.

Photo credit: Antony Adolf

Monday, August 9, 2010

Speaking for Fun and Profit, Part 1: Types of Presentation

I've got a couple of speaking opportunities lined up for the coming week, so presenting to a group as a part of a networking practice is much on my mind. We've spoken earlier about how you can use speaking as an opportunity to get your audience to know you. Let's delve a little more into the details of the opportunities offered by the presentation practice.

In networking, there are really two types of speaking. The first is an educational presentation about the speaker's business. Usually you would give this type as a part of a closed networking group such as BNI. The entire purpose of this speech is to educate other members of the group about your business and who would be a good referral for you. Of course, the format will differ depending on the group, but these will usually be around ten minutes long.

The other type of presentation is an informational piece based on the industry-specific knowledge which the speaker has as a result of his expertise in his business. So, in this case, the marketing expert might speak about getting out the message using new media. The IT expert might offer up advice about how to maintain your computer. An attorney might talk about how to secure your intellectual property. Most presentations which are a part of a networking event (like a Chamber lunch) would fall into this category. The primary goal of this type is to help establish yourself as an expert in the field.

Now, in both of these situations, your goal is not to sell your product or service -- at least not directly. In the first type, you are merely trying to help your "ambassadors" help you, not necessarily turn them into clients. In the second case, you are providing value with no expectation of return. Of course, the information you provide may inspire them to buy from you, but if you ever utter the phrase "special offer, just for you", then you've probably overstepped the bounds.

There are a number of techniques I've seen used to good effect in both types of presentations. In the upcoming days we will take a look at them in more detail. Until then, you may want to take a look at how you would present your business and on which topics you could speak which might interest and inspire others.

Photo credit: Brad Harrison

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Let's Party!

You are a member of several communities in your life. You've got your company, various networking groups, your place of worship, etc. Each group has it's own purpose for being and most will have meetings and events which focus on that purpose. That's as it should be and each of these meetings will still be a good chance for networking.

Each of your groups will also have events and activities which are more social in focus. In short, they throw parties.

Attend these events.

Parties are a great opportunity to get to know people on a personal level. At these types of gatherings, most people try to avoid "talking shop". As a result, they tend to share more about their lives away from work -- their dreams, plans, and accomplishments. People also tend to be more relaxed and are more likely to let down their guard and just talk

So, what kind of events could you attend? How about the company picnic and end of year party? If you have your own business and you are too small to have such things, maybe you could start to have them and invite your clients. If your networking groups have "after hours" events, these tend to be more social in nature. If you attend multi-day seminars or conferences, of course look for the cocktail parties (you don't necessarily have to drink), but also be aware that the event organizers might set up an outing to a local attraction, such as a zoo, museum, or theater. You'll already have a leg up on learning some personal interests with anyone else who attends these events.

You don't have to hit every party that heads your way. Just as with other networking events, you do still have to make sure that it fits into your goals and your schedule. Still, be sure you add a little bit of fun to your networking mix. It makes building strong, fun connections a lot easier.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Myth: The More Cards You Hand Out, The Better

Believe it or not, there are still a lot of people who believe that the more cards you hand out, whether you are at a formal networking event, a one-to-one meeting, or in line at the grocery store, the more successful you are at networking. Of course, that networking success will lead to more business than you can shake a stick at.


The folks who believe this probably learned their networking style a few decades ago (or have a manager who did). Unfortunately, this behavior is also what gives networking a bad name in some quarters. In reality, this is the networking equivalent of the television commercial. It's a one-way communication (the card-passer is never going to follow up with anyone else) from one person to many with the goal of casting a wide net in the hopes of bringing in one or two sales.

It's not networking, it's advertising.

True networking success is not dependent on the number of cards you pass out, but rather on the number of cards you receive that you then develop into real relationships. That means that you are taking an active part in the process, not just waiting for them to call. One or two sales at the cost of annoying a lot of people is too high a price to pay. Our goal should be to create strong friendly relationships which will result in continuous business for years to come.

Photo credit: Davide Guglielmo

Friday, August 6, 2010

Avoiding the Lapse in Networking

Kaylie, Lisa, JoAnn, and I with friends,
Marcia and Gary Housel
As I've mentioned, we have been out in Pennsylvania for a short family vacation with my wife's family. We've been having a lot of fun, but there's been one minor challenge:

My networking has suffered.

Now, missing a week here or there isn't a huge problem. Networking has a certain momentum to it which can carry you through short breaks for vacations or family emergencies. The true challenge is when you return back home, can you get right back to work making your connections? Before you respond, remember that returning from a break often means that you have a pile of stuff to go through that will seem urgent. You could easily spend the next week attending to it and your normal duties.

After two weeks without networking, you are going to feel a sense of overwhelm about starting back up. You'll push it back a day, maybe two. Suddenly you'll look up and realize that you haven't done your networking for over a month. Look out feast and famine cycle, here we come!

Here are a few things you can do to help mitigate the problem.

  • Adjust your tickler file. If you set specific dates to call your contacts in your tickler file, make sure you don't have anyone scheduled while you are going to be gone. If the absence is unplanned, take a few minutes as soon as you get back to "seed" your scheduled calls/emails from that time into the next two or three weeks.
  • Send an email or two. While you may not have time to do your full networking practice, assuming you do have email access, just send out an email or two each day. It will help you stay in touch at a minimal investment of time.
  • Practice. Especially when you are away from home, this is a perfect time to practice your face-to-face networking skills. Strike up a conversation with someone at the breakfast buffet. Find out about how the front desk manager got his position. How long has the shuttle driver been working this route?
  • Get access to your materials. If you are on the road, do you have access to your tickler file, your schedule, and your address book? Personally, I use Google Docs, Google Calendar and Gmail for these tools, respectively. All I need is an Internet-connected computer and I can make whatever connections I have time for.
  • Think ahead. While you are away, take a few moments to plan for your networking upon your return. Be aware of the time it will take you to catch up and plan for a specific scheduled time to accomplish some of your networking activities. Sometimes, just the act of planning will be enough to keep you on track.
When you head off on vacation, you probably already have a checklist of sorts to make sure you don't forget to feed the cat or pack your snorkeling gear. Add one more thing to the list: Adjust networking practice to "on the road" mode. Taking a little time now to prepare for your absence will help you avoid the feast or famine cycles which come from an uneven practice.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Old Reconnections

As we continue our family vacation in Pennsylvania, this afternoon and evening we visited with old friends of my father-in-law, Joe. Danny and Joe knew each other from when they were kids. They went to school together, played basketball together, and often got in trouble together. We even heard the story of how Joe had saved Danny's life when Danny went in swimming and almost drowned.

Now the interesting thing is that these two close friends lost track of each other not long after high school. Danny went off to college and Joe left for the Air Force. It wasn't until four decades later they reconnected through a mutual friend. Now they stay in touch through email, phone calls, and the occasional visit.

This is a perfect lesson of how, if we are willing to put in a little effort, we really can renew old relationships that have somehow slipped by the wayside. So often we hesitate about reaching out to someone who was once close to us. We feel guilty because we let the relationship fade. It's easier just to move on and meet new people.

As I watched these old friends tonight, though, I realized that, among all the relationships we have in our life, we must have at least a few which span the years. Without them, the tapestry of our friendships is missing a color or two. Sure, we can always meet new people, but we need to know that we are worthy of being known for longer --  that we aren't simply using our connections to achieve our goals for the moment -- that, indeed, the journey of our life can draw people further into our circles of acquaintance and friendship.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Kaylie and the Escalator

Lisa, Kaylie and I flew off to Pennsylvania for a brief family vacation today. We had a bit of a wait for our ride to the hotel. So while Lisa took a much-deserved rest, I was on chase duty, following my adventurous two-year-old around the terminal.

She rapidly discovered the escalators and we spent a good half hour riding up one side and down the other. Now, when she first tried to use one of these devices, she was a bit scared. She had a little bit of a challenge getting her feet and the steps to agree. In fact, at one point early on, she had real difficulty committing to the process and would try to set one foot on the moving treads without immediately stepping on with the other. Fortunately, Daddy was there to set her aright, or my toddler might have been even better at the splits than she already was!

By the time we had been doing our ups and downs for thirty minutes, however, she didn't really need Daddy at all. She new how and when to step. She knew when to dismount, and she had gotten much better at maintaining her balance despite the movement under her feet.

Isn't it interesting how learning to network (or even learning to network in a new group) parallels this process?

When we first start out, we're a little nervous about how this will all work. We know we're supposed to go, but sometimes it's hard to get our feet pointed in the right direction. We're uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the process, which can result in only a half-hearted commitment -- one which will lead us into trouble (either by over-extending our activities, or by developing only the weakest connections). Certainly, it would help to have someone there to watch over our efforts, just in case we are about to make a major mis-step.

Then, by the time we've been networking for a while, we realize that we've got an almost unconscious intuition about how to best make our connections count. We feel like we've outgrown the need for our former networking mentors. In fact, there are now others looking to us to set the example.

As adults we often avoid those situations which make us feel even remotely uncomfortable. Unfortunately, networking is full of such moments. Try to approach networking with the same unselfconscious zeal of a child learning about some new aspect of her world. You'll be amazed at what you can achieve by just willing to try and fail.

And next time you'll remember to get both feet on the up escalator.

Photo credit: Christa Richert

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Know When to Say No

Today a dear friend called me up with a great opportunity. She wanted to offer me a leadership position on a new project that her organization is working on. This is an amazing chance to meet with a lot of people, to help out the group, and to build a lot of good recognition for myself and my business, too. You know what I said?

"No, thank you."

Of course, I also thanked her for the honor, but after hearing about the opportunity and some of the details about the time commitment involved, I just knew that I couldn't dedicate the kind of effort that this project needed. If I had said yes, it would have been detrimental to the project, the group, and to my own reputation. It just didn't fit right now.

Now, please understand, I think that giving value is the only way to grow your network. That said, though, you do still have only twenty-four hours in the day. If the value you are giving is taking away from time spent with your spouse, your children, or your health, then you really need to consider whether you can afford to do so.

As the airline instructions say: "Put on your own mask first." Only when your own life is in balance can you hope to be of true service to others.

Photo credit: Billy Alexander

Monday, August 2, 2010

More Networking Games

I've run across one or three additional networking games/activities since the last time we discussed them.
  1. Playing card seating -- This isn't so much a game as a particular technique that organizers can use to break up groups who already know each other. As each attendee enters the event, they are dealt a standard playing card. They then have to sit at the table which corresponds to that card's suit (so if you receive the king of clubs, you sit at the "clubs" table). This can be used in conjunction with speed networking where everyone from the clubs table sits along one side of the speed networking table. This way they won't be paired up with someone whom they just sat next to during lunch. Personally, I really like this activity. It keeps people from the same company from lumping themselves together at a single table. It's better for them and it's better for any other poor slob who might have been caught at the table with them.
  2. Ice-breaker topics -- When you are seated at the table, there might be a card or name tent with one or more "ice-breaker" questions. These can be anything from the silly ("What was your favorite breakfast cereal as a kid?") to the sublime ("What book inspired you to become the person you are today?"). For anyone who has trouble starting the conversation, this isn't a bad way to get things going. In fact, sometimes it's the silly questions which help people find their common points of interest.
  3. Find a person -- This one requires a little more preparation. Each person receives a sheet of paper with a series of things which you might find out about other people. These might be background (someone who was born in a different country), possessions (someone who owns a tuxedo), or skills (someone who has professional voice training). The goal is for you to find someone who matches each quality. There are a couple of caveats, though. One, you can't use the same person for more than one category, and, two, you can't just come out and ask them which categories they can fill. Now, this probably wouldn't work so well at a networking lunch, for example, but it is a great way to help a large group of people (like a long-term class, for example) to get to know each other quickly.
I would love to hear about any other networking games or activities you run into. If you see something that I haven't covered already, please drop me a line.

Until then, remember that it may be network, but there's no reason you can't have fun, too.

Photo credit: Fabrizio Ginesi