Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Networking Examples at Disney World

It's kind of funny to see some of the concepts of networking playing themselves out in real life, especially when it's in an unexpected situation. In this case, my daughter, Kaylie, who is an amazing networker (as most children are) showed me the power of personal introductions. Here's what happened.

We are down at Disney World for a family vacation. It was our second day here and we were exploring the Animal Kingdom. We were walking from one area to another when Kaylie suddenly spotted a familiar face.

"Baloo! Come back, Baloo!"

Yes, it was Baloo the Bear, from the movie "The Jungle Book". She had met him last year when we were here and apparently still thought of him as a dear friend. Being a doting father, I got in line with her to so she could get re-acquainted with the furry guy. She was anxious to get to the front of the line -- patience not yet being one of her many talents -- and when her turn came, she ran into Baloo's arms to give him a big hug.

Then there was a bit of an awkward moment.

You see, Baloo wasn't alone. He had a partner with him that day -- King Louie of the Apes. Well, Kaylie had never met King Louie and was a bit nonplussed whether to trust him or not. Baloo to the rescue. He made silent introductions and with that, Kaylie walked right over and gave King Louie a big hug, too, and they all became great friends.

It really is amazing how powerful a personal introduction can be. It could make the difference in getting the job or the client. It might even clear the way to making a new friend. So, remember this the next time someone makes a personal introduction for you. They should receive almost as big a thank you as someone who gives you the signed contract.

Also, remember that this is an excellent way to help others in your network. Take the time to find good matches for them among your other contacts and then make the introduction. Interconnecting you network in such a way can only make it grow stronger.

And a stronger network leads to greater success in the long run.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Timeline of a Networking Event, Part 3: After

Over the past couple of days we've been talking about the sequence of events leading up to and during a networking event. In this example we chose to look specifically at a lunchtime event with a speaker. You can adapt most of these actions, though, to any networking event. Now that we've dealt with what to do before and during the event, now let's focus on what actions to take after the scheduled end of the festivities.

From the end until fifteen minutes after. This is our last chance to get in a little networking. We should finish up that networking goal if we haven't done so already. Also, if we didn't already set up meetings for coffee or lunch with the people we met, now is a good time to catch them before they head out the door. Scheduling now will be a lot easier than trying to set something up later. We should take time now, too, to thank the speaker and the event organizers if possible. If something was particularly meaningful for us, this would be a good time to let them know.

By the end of the day. We need to enter all business cards into our card processing system, whatever that might be. If we don't, I can almost guarantee we won't do anything with them for so long that, by the time we do actually try to do something with them, we won't have a clue who these people are. This is especially true for any people with whom we were unable to secure a future meeting.

Within two or three days. We should make contact with these people. If we don't make contact with the intention of extending the relationship, then attending the event in the first place was somewhat wasted. Remember that our main reason for attending events is to meet new people. Meeting them is only the beginning, though. In order to make it worthwhile, we must continue the association.

Within two or three weeks. By the end of this period we really need to meet them for coffee or lunch. After that meeting, we need to make the decision whether to enter them into our long-term network. Did we have a good chemistry with them? Do they seem to be good networkers? Are they interested in maintaining a long-term networking relationship? By whatever criteria we use, we do need to make that decision.

So, there you have it, the timeline for before, during, and after the event. I realize that you already practice this stuff, but please, if you know someone who is just starting out on their adventures in networking, pass along this information, it will make the process a lot more pleasant and productive. It will help them grow their networks which, in turn, helps extend the power of yours, too.

Photo credit: Zvone Lavric

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Timeline of a Networking Event, Part 2: During

Yesterday we talked about what we should do in the days and hours leading up to a networking event. The preparations we set in motion were designed to give us an advantage when we got to the event and to get some networking in even before the official start of the festivities. Now the clock has struck noon (or 11:30 or whenever things were supposed to actually get started). How should we best spend our time in order to get the most for the investment of our time and money?

From event start to twenty minutes in. Network. OK, this shouldn't be too surprising. In this case, though, network with the idea of completing whatever goals you might have. Optimally, you should complete the goal by twenty minutes in. Longer than that and you may have chosen a goal which is too difficult to accomplish during this event. Be careful to avoid the temptation of the buffet line or the hors d'oeuvres tray. That is a reward for completing your networking goals.

Twenty minutes until thirty minutes in. Continue networking. Finish up your networking goal for the event. Remember that you shouldn't be monopolizing any one person's time. It limits both of your networking results. The biggest challenge here will be the distraction caused by the announcement that the buffet is ready. Just remember that when the call goes out, about half the crowd will mosey over to fill their plates. They'll be there for ten minutes at least waiting in line while you have the opportunity to network with the other people in the room.

From thirty to thirty-five minutes in. Get your lunch. Yes, you should still network, but just take a few minutes to snag what looks good from the buffet table. Then go take your seat which you reserved earlier.

From thirty-five minutes until the start of the formal part of the program. Network with the people at your table. Be aware that this is a slightly less powerful section of networking than the earlier part of the event.  The food tends to draw peoples' focus away from conversation with others and often attendees will sit with people they already know which makes it harder to break into the conversation.

During the formal part of the event. Listen. Pay attention to what's going on. Look for good things that happen during the event that speak to you. Make note of these things. Listen to the speaker and come up with some good questions about the topic he's presenting. Do this so you can follow up with the speaker and event organizers later.

Not surprisingly, we should be spending most of our time networking during the actual event. We should complete our goals quickly and, whenever possible, help others achieve theirs. Most people understand this concept, but fail in the execution, but provided you decided your goal before you even walked in the door, you'll have a great chance to walk out of the event feeling like it was a success.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Timeline of a Networking Event, Part 1: Before

As networkers we attend a lot of events. After all it's where we meet new people and briefly touch base with existing connections. Folks who are new to the process, though, are often baffled by the whole thing – what to do and when to do it. If you know someone like that, pass along this helpful timeline. It will give them a first shot at preparing to succeed.

For the purposes of this post, let's assume that we're attending a standard networking lunch. Most of these preparations will apply to any general networking.

Days before. Pre-register if possible. If you are going to invite a guest, confirm your plans. If you are new to the event, you may want to contact the organizers to find out what to expect. You may also want to do some quick research into the speaker and possibly other attendees who might be showing up.

The night before. Figure out what you are going to wear. I know it may sound silly, but not having my clothes figured out ahead of time has occasionally cut into my networking time. Instead of hopping in the car, I'm running around the house looking for a clean dress shirt and matching tie.

Before you get in the car. Gather your networking toolkit. Make sure you have business cards in a card holder. Pack a few extras in your wallet or purse. Grab a pen and notepad (especially if there's a speaker of some kind). Make sure you have access to your calendar whether paper or electronic. Remember it's always easier to schedule a coffee while you are standing next to each other.

In the car. Of course, make sure you start this step early enough so that you will arrive at least ten minutes before the start of the event. While driving, quickly review your goals. Are you trying to meet two new people or re-connect with a specific person? Are you just there to hear the speaker? Or to decide if the event is one you want to attend on a regular basis? Whatever your goal, make sure you know what it is before you walk in the door.

Ten minutes before. Arrive. Remember, the best networkers arrive early. They are the ones you want to meet and develop relationships with. If you think about it, the average networking lunch has about thirty minutes of open networking before the formal part of the event begins. Showing up just ten minutes early gives you 33% more networking time than just arriving when the event starts.

From ten minutes to five minutes before. Scope out the facilities. Find the restrooms, coat room, buffet line, etc. Claim a seat. Either drop off your notebook or coat or take the napkin and run it through the top of the chair. Don't lean the chair against the table. This will leave the legs sticking out in the walking path and be a hazard for your fellow attendees. Look for the speaker's podium. Make sure your seat faces that direction. If you will also be “passing the mic” for introductions, be sure to sit toward the outside of the room. If you are in the middle, your back will always be to at least half of the room.

From five minutes before until the scheduled start time. Network. Chat with the folks coming in. Say hello to the event organizers. You can even offer to help. If you are a long-time attendee, you might even offer to take newcomers under you wing so that they have a more productive time.

OK, so that covers what to do up until the formal start of the event. At this point you should already own the room because you showed up early, and you should be feeling pretty confident, too, since you took the time to prepare and have all of your materials ready at hand. With the five to ten minutes of networking you've already accomplished, you may even be well on your way to achieving your goals. Congratulations!

Tomorrow we'll cover dealing with the scheduled portion of the event.

Photo credit: chris gilbert

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanks!

As I write, I'm still feeling a bit uncomfortable with the amount I ate during Thanksgiving dinner -- about eight hours ago. It was a delicious meal and it was wonderful having a quiet family gathering. Not surprisingly, this time of year makes me think of all the things for which I'm grateful. If that happens for you, too, take a moment to appreciate your many blessings in your heart. Then go one step further and express that appreciation to everyone who made those blessings possible.

Thank your wonderful spouse who made you your favorite Thanksgiving dinner. Tell her how much you love her for her thoughtfulness. Then be sure to thank your mom who introduced the two of you.

Thank your clients for making this a great business year. Then thank all those people in your network who gave you the referrals and introductions to those clients. Then thank all of the people who introduced you to those people.

If you attend an event, be sure to thank the speaker for taking the time to make a gift of her knowledge and wisdom. Then thank the event organizer who took his time to find that speaker. Then thank the person who first invited you as a guest to the group.

If we take the time to show gratitude for the smallest acts others have done for us, it's more likely that more blessings will continue to appear in our lives. Also as we continue to appreciate those many blessings, we'll find ourselves maintaining a more upbeat and optimistic attitude. Strangely enough, the more positive we are, the more people want to be around us and get to know us which will lead to even more benefits headed our way.

In many ways, just learning to say "thank you" can be the catalyst that grows our network beyond believe.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Maybe One More Benefit: Improved Intelligence?

My friend Luis Albright posted a link on Facebook to this article in The Telegraph. It was a story about how relative to their size, dogs brains have grown faster than cat brains. Of course, the supposition is that the larger the brain relative to the body size, the higher the potential intelligence. Whether you believe all of that or not, what I found interesting was the reason they gave for the dogs getting bigger brains than the cats -- they are more social.

For some reason, being social selects for a larger brain. Perhaps maintaining ones self in a social group requires a greater mental agility. Or maybe interacting with others stimulates brain growth. Whatever the reason, the social dogs seem to be overtaking the solitary felines, at least in the brain weight category.

So, to draw grossly inaccurate conclusions from a study reported in the popular press, get out there and network if you want to get smarter. I know I'm always concerned that people will confuse me for a shaved chimp, so I'd better get back into my own "social lifestyle".

Who knew that networking could not only make you more money, but also make you smarter to boot!

Photo credit: Martin K

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Things

A long-time dear friend, Torun Moore, and her great kids stopped by for a visit this evening. I've known Torun since third grade. She lives in Virginia now, so we don't get to see each other often, but we do try to stay in touch and visit whenever possible. Tonight when she showed up she brought with her the gift of a wonderful apple pie from Sue's Pies and More. Sue's is a small bakery in Virginia and we would never have known about it had it not been for Torun.

This  got me thinking about all the other things I've been able to experience in my life because of the connections I've made -- things which have made my life considerably richer.

As I've written about before, if it hadn't been for my good friend, Lois Weinblatt of Zingerman's Professional Gifts, I probably never would have had the joy of tasting their one-year aged cheddar nor their unbelievable "over the moon" pies. I don't know if I'll ever be a "foodie", but Lois opened my ideas to what a joy it could be.

If it hadn't been for my friends Larc and Al Bogdan, I doubt that I would ever have experienced a large out-of-town science fiction convention. I certainly wouldn't be making my annual pilgrimage to Dragon*Con each year.

Cheryl O'Brien recommended the Purple Rose Theatre. That turned into a delightful "date night" with my wife. Through Lindsay McCarthy's efforts on the Leadership Ann Arbor program, I met Russ Collins from whom I got to learn the history of movie theaters and that of the Michigan Theater in particular. Attending a minor league baseball game, enjoying a college football game tailgate party, and eating at a restaurant in a distant city -- these are all events I would not have had were it not for the people I've met over the years.

Now, would my life be a dismal failure without these experiences? Probably not. Nor is it necessarily a towering success as a result of them. Still, my life's memories are definitely richer for having known these folks. Really, at the end of the day, the memories are just as important as the business referrals our networking might bring.

So get out there and use your network to discover new ways to create a life not only full of success, but full of fun, as well.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another Way to Support the Group

We've talked before about the importance of supporting the groups you join. Volunteer to help at events, write articles for the newsletter, or even hold a position in the leadership. That's all good. Now I'm going to suggest a technique which can be just as powerful.

Invite a guest.

Listen, above all else, an organization exists to support its membership. If the membership starts to dwindle, then the group's ability to serve the members also begins to fail. As people get less and less out of a group, they start to move on. The downward spiral ends with the group closing its doors and evaporating.

In order to avoid this fate, an organization needs new members regularly. New members fill the places of the older ones who've moved on. Guess where a majority of those new folks come from? Yep! From the guests that other members invite.

Inviting a guest benefits everyone. The guest gains the benefit of networking in a group which you obviously value. The group gets the potential for a new member. You? Well, you get the gratitude of both and the increased reputation as a great networker.

Sounds like a pretty good deal.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How to Find a Contact Sphere

We talked about contact spheres yesterday. Basically these are the group of businesses who also serve you target market, but don't compete with you. They tend to make good networking partners since the clients for one can often be clients for the other.

OK, so you'll probably agree that these are pretty cool. Now the trick is, how do you find them? Well, you have two options.

The first is to become an accomplished psychic and mind-reader. That way you can use your supernatural powers on your clients and find out who else they buy from.

Or you could just ask.

I'd recommend taking them out to lunch. In the invitation specifically tell them that you would like their help in brainstorming on this idea. You just want to find out who else they buy from. Most people will be more than happy to help out.

Remember that the people in your network (including your clients) are going to be happy to help you in any way they can. Take some time to tap into that network to help you find others which serve your target. Then go out on a limb and contact them too. Becoming part of that contact sphere could give your network a real boost.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Contact Spheres

As I understand, Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI coined the term "contact sphere" in his book, The World's Best Known Marketing Secret: Building Your Business With Word-of-Mouth Marketing. It's an idea that a lot of new networkers miss out on so I thought I would pass it along.

Essentially, a contact sphere is the group of other businesses who serve that same target market as you do, but don't compete with you. Here's the cool thing about this. If you develop strong relationships within the members of your contact sphere, then when one member has a referral, quite often many of the rest of the sphere will benefit as well.

A good example of this would be people in the wedding industry. Florists, DJ's, banquet halls, vacation planners, caterers, limousine services -- all of them serve the nervous bride and groom -- and they can each refer business to the others.

So take a look at your target market and see if you can find other folks who serve that same group. They just might end up making you very successful.

Photo credit: Bartek Ambrozik

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Networking Over Carpet

He was working so hard I couldn't get him
to look at the camera. Such dedication!
We've been having a little bit of work done on our basement lately, including having new carpet installed. We purchased our carpet from the local GCO carpet outlet store. When we did, they gave us the names of some installers in our area. From that list, we chose an installer named John Outhwaite.

What a treat.

John is 75 years old and has been working since he was 14. He's seen a lot of what the business world can throw at you and has continued to adapt over the years. He's been doing carpet installation for the last forty years and still enjoys seeing what his efforts can do to make an empty room look like home.

One of the things he told me when talking about his business related to the importance of knowing your target market. While he is on the preferred vendor list with a number of carpet stores in the area (like GCO), he told me that a good portion of his business comes from companies and individuals who manage student apartments here in the Ann Arbor area. At the rate students come and go around here, he should have work for as long as he wants it. Note, though, that this target isn't "Anyone who needs carpet" or even "Anyone with a rental property". No, he is looking for clients who are specifically in charge of student apartments in the Ann Arbor area -- specific in both location and industry.

Of course, having that group as his target isn't sufficient to guarantee his success. He still has to provide superlative service in order to maintain his current clients and have his name passed along (in a positive way) within the group. John certainly does that. He and his partner kept us informed as to how the process worked. They were willing to help me move some heavy exercise equipment we have in the basement. They wouldn't leave until I had the chance to look over everything and sign off that I was happy. Then he gave me his "just call me" guarantee. Basically if something goes wrong with the installation ... ever ... I just have to call him and he will come over and make it right.

If you are planning to have carpet installed, remember to give him a call. If you want to succeed in business, remember his focus on a target market. You'll end up finding a lot more success in the long run.

Friday, November 19, 2010

But I'm not a Systems Person!

Just another system
I was having coffee with a good friend the other day when the conversation turned to the concept of using systems in networking. She admitted that she understood how valuable they were, but that she wasn't really a systems person so she could never seem to get them to stick. That being the case, I can understand why she or anyone would have problems implementing systems in any aspect of their lives.

Our conversation shifted to other things, including our plans for the upcoming holidays. She was having family in from out of town and she started to tell me about all the plans she had in order to prepare for their arrival. She knew what she had to get done each day to create the best holiday experience for her guests.

I had to stop her.

"Wait a minute. You just told me five minutes ago that you aren't a systems person. Now you're telling me about this system you have to prepare for guests? Which is it?"

Fortunately she's a good sport and just laughed, but she agreed that I had a point. We didn't go into it much further, but I've been thinking more about this and I'm starting to wonder what does get in the way of applying a system to any aspect of our lives. Here's some of the possibilities I came up with.

Systems are stifling. A lot of folks resist setting up systems because they are afraid it will take away from their creativity and spontaneity. I often think it's the reverse. Systems help us make sure we take care of the things that don't really need our imagination which opens up time and mind-space for exploring more creative ideas.

Systems are difficult. If a system is complicated or even just doesn't fit your lifestyle then it will be too difficult to maintain and sooner or later it will drop by the wayside. This doesn't mean you should give up on systems entirely. If everyone did that, where would the cookbook authors be? Instead, you need to examine the procedures you are using on a regular basis and determine how you will adapt them to fit you. Take, for example, my daily networking log. It has gone through a number of revisions and probably will continue to do so in the future.

It's too difficult to make it a regular practice. Establishing a good habit (and that's basically what we're talking about) can be challenging. A lot of times that's because we are trying to do too much. Either we are trying to make a habit out of too many small things or we are trying to make a huge change in our behavior. Either way, we are putting a big roadblock in our path because the difficulty of what we are trying to do is being amplified by our attempts to make that thing a regular and permanent part of our life. We'd be better off focusing on making a regular practice out of a single small thing or a small part of a larger overall effort. So, if the system you want to establish is to make twenty phone calls a day to reach out to your network, instead start out making one call a day for a week or two. Then move to two calls and hold there for a while.

I read somewhere that in your first week in establishing a new habit, you should make it as easy as possible. In fact make it so easy that you don't have any excuse for not doing it. Establishing the practice first is far more important than the specifics of what you are doing.

If you've ever followed a recipe, you can adopt a system. If you have any good habits, then you can follow a system regularly. After that it's just a matter of reaping the rewards.

Photo credit: Brian Kelley

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What are You Going to Write About this Week?

Yesterday we talked about using writing as a part of your networking practice. Your written "voice" can strengthen connections through testimonials and Gratitude Notes. It can build your reputation through blogs and articles, and it can maintain a low-level "touch" through a regular newsletter. Now, most people don't have a problem with writing an occasional testimonial or sending off a big thank you. Where the problem comes in is maintaining that regular writing schedule -- especially writing which others will read. How do you find enough to write about day after day or week after week?

Here's a few ideas which should keep your topic list full for months.

Definitions. No matter how brain-dead simple you think you job is, you probably use some sort of jargon or specialized terminology which would confuse an outsider. I had the oil changed in my car today. One of the technicians working on my car called out for a "visual check". I was curious to what they were referring. Was it just to verify that the various plugs and caps were present or was there something more to it?

Helpful tips. These can be peripherally associated with your business. My buddy Bruce Webb, a realtor, includes tips on home care and maintenance in each of his emailed newsletters.

Customer profile. This is especially powerful in a blog or newsletter. Write a piece about one of your clients. Think of it as almost a reverse testimonial. You are writing to talk about them and all the cool things they are doing not about what they think about you. You could even extend this category to include anyone in your network.

Personal stories. Most people who have gotten to know you will be interested in what you do when you aren't working. A few years ago I had a biweekly newsletter about tools and tips about using the web for personal productivity -- a subject that tied in loosely with my Web development business. At the beginning of the letter I included a short introduction which often related an anecdote about my daughter Kaylie. With most issues, I received more compliments about the intro than I did on the main article. Whatever. The most important thing was that I was maintaining contact with the recipients.

Humor, quotes, short stories. I had another networking acquaintance who, for a while, sent out a monthly newsletter which had a thought-provoking quote from some famous person and a short joke. Neither had anything to do with her business, but I always looked forward to those newsletters. Wouldn't it be cool if people looked forward to receiving yours?

Industry news. Another friend of mine, Andrew Miller, maintains a blog where he writes about SEO -- search engine optimization or how people find things in Google and other search engines. When industry news comes out, he explains what it means. Then he goes further to tell his readers how it might affect their own search engine strategies.

If you start maintaining a list of topics which fall into these areas, I'm certain that you will soon have enough to write about that you could do so every day for a year. By the time you got to the end of that, you'd probably have some more to write about.

Like how you built a reputation writing once a day for a whole year.

Photo credit: Jakub Krechowicz

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Did You Write Today?

My friend Scott Ginsberg, a master on the topic of approachability, maintains that writing is the basis for all wealth. Writing down our thoughts forces us to clarify them. Jotting down our plans helps us discover the flaws so that we can have a better chance of succeeding. Putting pen to page (or fingers to keyboard) allows us to teach and entertain and convince those who care to read what we've recorded. As far as networking goes, writing is a means to give with no expectation of return.

So, what have you written today?

Try a few of these on for size:

Newsletter: This could be one that you send out regularly or you could offer to be a guest author for someone else.

Blog: With most of the blogging sites available, you can get started within minutes. Just pick a topic and get writing. The trick with blogging (as with most writing) is to be consistent. I'm an every day kind of guy myself, but once a week is more than sufficient as long as you are consistent.

Testimonial: Have you had particularly good service lately? Write a glowing testimonial and send it out to the stellar party. Let them know that you think they're aces.

Gratitude Note: This is basically an opportunity for you to let someone know how profoundly they've affected your life.

Free Article: There are services out on the net which allow you to post articles regarding just about any topic for anyone to use in a publication (with attribution). The more articles you make available on a topic, the more likely you are to be viewed as an expert.

Award Nomination: Every community has awards for its members. In this case, we aren't looking for recognition for ourselves. We are looking for opportunities to make someone else the center of attention. Nominating someone for a prestigious award is a great way to strengthen a relationship. After all, you'll have to spend some serious time with them in order to fill out the nomination information.

Book: OK, this is kind of the "Holy Grail" of writing, but people do write books every day. Wouldn't it be cool if you could count yourself among them?

Most people don't care to write. That's why those who do so, tend to stand out. Writing doesn't have to be a tedious process. Just spend a little time each day. Even just a few sentences a day will get you into the habit.  Before you know it, the messages you convey will lead you to deeper relationships and a much wider circle who recognize your name -- both factors which can indeed lead to wealth.

Photo credit: Julien Tromeur

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Breaking Through with Confidence

Down at the Karate school where I train, we have the occasional board-breaking seminar. My instructor, Master Jason Hafner preps the students for their big moment by spending some time talking about all of the technical aspects of actually breaking a board. He covers body-weight shifting, targeting, proper hand or foot position, follow-through, board position, and numerous other technique-related issues.

Then he talks about the most important aspect of all.

Usually he has two of us large guys holding a board and with relatively little preparation he palm-strikes the board and snaps it in half. He then turns to the group and asks what it was that allowed him to do that. Of course, the responses range over all of the technique-related things that he had just covered, but, while they are all necessary, they aren't the reason he broke the board.

The reason is that he has absolute confidence that the board is going to break. Oh, now it's a confidence borne of successfully having done this hundreds of times, but even the first time he had to have had confidence that it was going to happen. Why? Because without that self-assurance, the would-be breaker tends to hold back out of fear of feeling pain, which usually means that the board wins.

The same idea holds for our networking practice. The first time we try out a new technique, we must have confidence of it's ultimate success. If we don't, the we won't invest ourselves into the activity which means that it will be a false behavior -- something that we aren't feeling in our hearts. The person on the receiving end will feel that falsehood, even if they don't know it's origins and the technique will only serve to drive a wedge between you.

Take Gratitude Notes for example. If you write one of these notes with confidence, then your true feelings of thankfulness and appreciation will shine through every word. The result will be a closer and stronger relationship with the recipient. If it's written without confidence, the the message it will deliver to the recipient is that the author of the note is "techniquing" them. No one likes to be manipulated like that.

In networking, confidence is one of the most powerful traits you can nurture in yourself. Have confidence not only in the techniques you use, but also in the value you bring to any relationship. Soon, you'll be able to break through the barriers between you and others in the same way a Karate Master can break through a pine board.

And you'll make it look easy, too.

Photo credit: Flickr user prw_silvan

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Downy Doom and Gloomer

"And then I swallowed my gum."
This is the another in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: The Downy Doom and Gloomer

Environment: Standing under a little storm cloud all their own.

Behavior: The Downy Doom and Gloomer is a close relative of the Cacophonous Chatterbox. They both tend to monopolize conversation with no concern for anyone else in the group. Where they differ is in the content of that monologue. The Chatterbox will talk about anything that seems important to him. The Gloomer, on the other hand, focuses solely on the darker side of any topic. They perceive someone asking "How are you?" as an invitation to talk about their recent health crises. "What's new?" is an opportunity to reveal their abysmal financial outlook. Even asking about the good things in their lives right now will elicit, at best, a story about how their injuries from the car accident last week at least haven't gotten badly infected.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Be a good date. We all have bad things happen to us in our lives. I think we all recognize that as part of living. Here's the thing, though, we also all have good things happen to us. Guess which aspect of our lives people would prefer to share in?

No one enjoys being around people who are chronically unhappy. That mood is contagious and most will avoid it at all costs. The end result? A smaller, less powerful network of people which leads to a lower level of success which leads to more Doom and Glooming.

Counter-Measures: The ironic thing about most Gloomers is that they don't even realize that they are bringing down everyone around them. They actually believe that they are being good networkers because they are sharing the intimate details of their lives with other people. In act, in many ways, they are sharing too much information.

The trick for their victims is to recognize the difference between a Gloomer and a friend or acquaintance who is looking for support during a tough time. The latter will usually only share the darker parts of their lives with those in their trusted circle. They also won't dwell on it for an excessive amount of time. In this case, they deserve our sympathy and support. A Gloomer, on the other hand, dwells only on the negative and often shares her difficulties with complete strangers. In this case, sympathy and support are like throwing gasoline on a fire. Your best counter-measure is to get clear of the conversation in any way. You don't need their darkness in your life.

How We Can Help: As with many limited networking behaviors, the best way to stop it is to interrupt the pattern. Interrupt it in a way that doesn't give them the sympathy that they think they want. One of my favorite things to do is to ask "Really? So what are you doing to improve the situation?" For most folks, this puts them in a "solution" frame of mind. If they've got a solution that they are working on, then you can cheer them on and offer to connect them with someone in your network who might be able to help with that solution. If they aren't at least attempting some steps to improve the problem, then there isn't much you can do. Tell them you're sorry they're having such difficulties, wish them luck, and move along.

You're better off focusing on your own successes than on someone else's failures.

Photo credit: Simon Carrasco

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Artist's Story

These are not the only tools for the artist.
As I mentioned yesterday, Lisa and I attended an "Entrepreneur's Expo" on Friday night. One of the more memorable people we met was Keith Paris, a local artist whose particular focus is three dimensional art -- basically imagine a painting with raised and textured surfaces. His work is meant to be touched. In particular he designs his work for the visually impaired. One of the pieces he had on display at the expo even had the title in Braille incorporated as a part of the picture.

Now as cool as the idea is, the story behind it is just as compelling.

He told us how when he was younger he had done some work around the house for his aunt who was blind. One of the chores was applying stucco to a wall. He accidentally left a handprint in the middle of his efforts which eventually set up there. His aunt later happily told him that she could tell he had been there because of that handprint. What had been a mistake on his part ended up making an emotional connection for his aunt which she treasured for many years. He realized then that he wanted to make art for that section of our society which artists often overlook -- the visually impaired.

Now, I have not done his story justice. When he tells it, you can see the shine of profound emotion in his eyes. And it's an emotion which he conveys to his listeners.

The funny thing was, Keith claimed that he wasn't a very good networker. Yet, he had already accomplished two of the goals that any good networker must in order to be successful. He knew why he he was doing what he was doing and he also knew for whom he was doing it. Once you have those core basics in place, the rest of networking is a lot easier.

So, if you do want to improve your networking practice, take a page from Keith's book. Know who you serve, but also know the reasons why you've chosen to do that. Then just tell the story.

Photo credit: Billy Alexander

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Vision of Entrepreneurs

I thought you had the camera.
OK, maybe that's not what you call a group of entrepreneurs -- you know, like a pride of lions or a flock of geese or a murder of crows -- but it sounds like a possibility to me.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that Lisa and I attended a small "Entrepreneurs Expo" this evening as a part of our "Date Night". Never let it be said that we don't know how to have a good time!

This was a small event set up by a local apartment complex to allow their entrepreneurial tenants to set up display tables and meet with other small business people in the complex's clubhouse. Apparently they had just finished some major renovations on the place and were looking to show off the new digs and foster a sense of community among the tenants. They had refreshments and a nice fire in the fireplace.

The only problem from a networking standpoint was that the turnout was a bit light. This was probably partially due to the fact that this was the first one they've attempted, which meant that the event hadn't built a name for itself. The other factor was probably the simple fact that it was Friday night and most business folks don't think of attending events like this on the weekend. The organizer, Tamara Meyer, told me that she plans on holding these expos about once a quarter. I'm sure as they continue they will refine their technique and end up with more attendees.

The one thing I did want to point out that I really liked was the makeup of the different entrepreneurs who had display tables. In particular, Tamara had the genius of inviting a local artist, Keith Paris, to set up a display of his work. I loved this because those who attend events like this often see the same business types every time they show up. Featuring an artist as an entrepreneur was unusual enough that it really made the whole evening worthwhile for us.

I'll be curious to see how Tamara and her team continue to develop this concept. Running your own networking event is never easy and there will always be a bit of trial and error. As we've spoken about in the past, though, the best networkers are almost always the ones who go beyond just making connections for themselves and instead go to the greater effort of trying to foster a community.

In that light Tamara is certainly on her way to becoming a great networker.

Photo credit: A. Carlos Herrera

Friday, November 12, 2010

Giving Back and Ulterior Motives

Look! Advertising!
Just like my blog!
I had an interesting experience today.

As many of you know, some of these posts are reprinted on AnnArbor.com -- the electronic successor to the former print newspaper, the Ann Arbor News. I post two articles a week, Mondays and Thursdays. Today something a little different happened. The editors decided to promote today's article to the home page. Suddenly my post, which would have been buried in the "Passions and Pursuits" section, was out on the front page (admittedly, below the electronic fold). That meant a serious increase in the number of readers.

Yay, me! Right?

Well, it was definitely pretty cool, I won't deny that. The downside was that with the increase in exposure was a commensurate increase in the number of (apparently) grouchy people who viewed my article.

The post was the one about "bait and switch" networking -- you know, the practice of inviting someone to an event or one-to-one, ostensibly for networking and developing relationships, when in reality the goal is to sell to them. A few of the folks who commented pointed out that my article was a perfect example of this as it purported to be a news story when in reality it was a thinly disguised advertisement for my company.

Huh. Well, I guess they caught me on that one.

If I thought they would listen, I would try to explain that in most advertising, the name of the product or company should probably a bit more prominent than appearing in the four-line bio at the end of the article.

Still, yes, I will be honest. One of the motives behind my articles there (and my radio spots and my blog and my speaking engagements) is to get my name out there as someone who knows a little bit about the topic of networking. In order to do that honestly, I make an effort every day to provide value to anyone who wants to listen or read, with no expectation of a monetary (or any other) return on my efforts.

Ultimately, for those who do aspire to be great networkers, that is something they must do. They can't hoard their knowledge and skill until someone is willing to pay for it. They have to be willing, to some extent at least, to give it away for free. Whether it's writing, speaking, volunteering, passing referrals, or even just listening, they have to think of others first. That's what creates the connections which form a great network.

So, for the few commenters who called me out on my "hypocrisy": Thank you. Thank you for giving me material for another of my manipulative and underhanded articles on the Art of Networking.

Photo credit: Jakob Montrasio

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Networking Lessons From My Daughter

Ready to network
My daughter Kaylie is one of the best networkers I've ever seen. I suspect that a lot of kids are. I think if we adults paid a little more attention to them and did our best to emulate them, we would have a lot less trouble with our networking practice. Here are just one or two of the lessons I've learned from watching her.

Never fear the other kids. No matter where we are, if she sees other children at a distance, she shouts out "Hi, kids!" and rushes over to play. Often her first words to them will be "My name's Kaylie. What's your name?" Within minutes she's running around with them as if she's known them for years. Wouldn't networking events be a lot easier if we tried that same fearless approach?

Know what you want. The other day, we were at Raja Rani, our favorite Indian restaurant. They have a dessert there called Gulab Jamun. If you've never had it, imagine a dense donut hole served in molten syrup and you have a close approximation. Well Kaylie has discovered a true love of these sweet little morsels. "More sugar, please" was what she kept saying (OK, she couldn't handle the name, but we knew what she meant). How many of us adults would benefit from being able to respond clearly and immediately when someone asked what we were looking for? It would certainly make our networking more productive!

Play your own game. We were at the playground about a month ago and Kaylie was playing with Diana, a little girl who was a a year or so older. Diana wanted to play hide-and-go-seek, but Kaylie just didn't understand the concept. She ended up creating her own game which consisted of covering her eyes and counting to ten. For some reason, she thought this was just grand and soon Diana joined in the fun. Wouldn't it be great if adults chose not to play the "sell at the networking event" game? Maybe we could start up a lovely round of "meet new people and form relationships at the networking event" and get the other attendees to play along.

My daughter is very wise for having only been on this Earth for three years. I'm going to keep an eye on her. I can only imagine the other lessons she'll teach me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

You Wanna Start Something?

Doing what I do, you would probably guess that I run into networkers of all different levels all the time. Of course, I'm particularly interested in the behavior of those whom I consider to be truly accomplished networkers. I figure the more that I emulate them, the better off I will be. One trait that's come to my attention lately is that most of the great networkers of my acquaintance have gone beyond just attending events and meeting people. They actually organize communities.

I was just chatting with my new friend Paul Larned, owner of Larned & Associates, LLC. He also happens to be the director of the local chapter of Free Networking International and runs and manages the weekly gatherings. He's found that in this position, he gets to know a lot of skilled individuals. As a result, he says he gets to be a center of influence in the area and can almost always advise someone whenever they are looking for goods or services.

Of course, I've talked about my friend Bruce Webb in the past. He actually runs two events. Both are once a month. The first is his educational breakfast where he brings in speakers to present topics of interest to small business people in the area. The second is a "social" -- a much more casual evening affair at a local bar. No matter which one you attend, Bruce is your contact. Interesting that he also maintains his "Book of Love" which is a list of all of the people whom he can refer to anyone he meets.

Of course, no list like this would be complete without talking about my mom, Debby Peters. Debby teaches classes in advanced networking down in Ohio. Much of what I know about networking today, I learned from her. She maintains a whole community of those folks who have completed her networking course -- over 500 strong. Think about it. She's a great networker who teaches about networking and manages a fairly extensive group of advanced networkers. Let's just say I'm never surprised if we run into someone who knows her when we are out on the town.

Of course we need to learn and practice all of our networking techniques. These are the basic tools which will help us to establish a the strong connections which support us in all we do. The next logical step then is to extend those same techniques to form communities. The more people we can bring into those communities, the more benefit we can bring to each member of the group and, consequently, the stronger our own network will grow.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user spekulator

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Interrupting the Pattern

My good friend, Mike Ludlum, and I were having a conversation about networking today. He told me about some challenging folks he had run into at the last networking mixer he had attended. One in particular he referred to as a "drive-by card passer". This woman basically ran from person to person forcing her business card into their hands. Mike was curious how I would handle someone who had such a limited view of good networking practice. His solution was to take her card, but then ask her who a good referral for her would be.

Apparently it stopped her dead in her tracks with a look of abject confusion on her face.

Actually, Mike had the exact right solution. Whenever someone is following a set pattern of unproductive networking behavior, make a point of breaking that pattern. The "drive by" who ran across Mike obviously had never had anyone take an actual interest in her. When someone did, her programmed limited networking failed her and there was an opportunity to find out who she was as a person.

The strong-arm salesperson with the checkered coat and the bad case of "commission breath" may be trying to steer you down his sales path. What do you suppose he would do if every time he started down that path, you gave vague answers, but then immediately followed up with a question about him, his business, and/or his personal life? I'm guessing before long he would either give up, or turn into an actual human being and a decent conversationalist.

How about that guy who wants you to introduce him to your friend, Tom, who's the CEO of a local company? He's used to "no" or maybe a tepid "yes". What if you responded with an enthusiastic "I'd be glad to, but before I do, I'd like a chance to get to know you a little better. Could we meet for coffee sometime? I want to make sure that you and Tom would be a good fit."? You'd probably get a chance to know this person a lot better and be able to introduce them to other members of your network who might be a good fit.

The folks who are exhibiting less-than-successful networking practices are usually doing it without malice. They simply don't know any better. Whatever the reason, by breaking their pattern, you may have an opportunity to help them become better networkers.

...an activity that could help your own network grow a lot faster.

Photo credit: Patrick Hoesly

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Patience of a Networker?

When I went through the Leadership Ann Arbor program a few years ago, one of the things I got to do was go on a ride-along with an Ann Arbor Police Officer. In this case it was officer Steve Dye. One of the things that he said which really stuck with me was "Impatience will get you in trouble". That was definitely the theme of the day as we pulled over motorist after motorist who tried to cut corners in order to save a few seconds from their travel time.

The same dictum holds for networking. Anytime we try to cut some corners in order to achieve our goals, we are likely to end up costing ourselves in the long run. If we ask for a high-level referral from a new relationship, we run the risk of destroying that connection. If we expect significant monetary results as soon as we start networking, we'll end up frustrated and likely give up just before our efforts pay off. If we tell the other person what we want before we ask them how we can help them, we end up looking like a user and we'll have a lot of work ahead of us to repair our reputation.

Networking takes time. We have to invest our efforts into it for months before it can even begin to pay off. If we recognize that and approach all of our potential relationships with patience to let them develop organically, something strange happens. The process becomes a lot faster and easier.

And we end up needing a lot less patience.

Photo credit: Patti Gray

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Old Bait and Switch

I wish we had the same thing for
"networking traps"
I've been caught by this on more than one occasion, so I'm going to put out a warning to anyone who is just starting out in their networking practice. Please, be aware of the bait-and-switchers. These are the folks who give networking a bad name, because they invite their victims to an event or to a one-to-one meeting with the goal of wrestling them to the ground in order to sell to them.

I had one gentleman invite Lisa and I out to breakfast, "to get to know you better". When we arrived he had a multi-page questionnaire that he took us through which included detailed questions about our current financial state. It turns out, he was trying to get us to sign up to have him be our financial planner. Really? And you think we're going to trust you with our money on a first meeting?

I don't think so.

Then there was the guy who invited me out to lunch, again, ostensibly for the purpose of seeing how we could network together. When I got there, though, he tried to put the hard-sell on me to join his multi-level marketing downline. He even tried the old line "This would be your business. Why would you have to consult with your wife before you can make a decision?"

Do people still respond to that kind of manipulation?

An acquaintance of mine told me of a time that she attended what was billed as a "monthly networking event" which included a specific agenda on various networking activities designed to "see how we can help each other". When she arrived, that agenda flew out the window as the host turned the event into an opportunity to sell his line of self-help videos. Needless to say, she didn't stick around for the rest of the session.

This is the Dark Side of networking. This is where duplicitous shills cast their net in hopes of snagging fresh meat to throw into the grinder. They don't care how many people they irritate and annoy, nor how much of other peoples' time they waste. If they can keep signing up even one person out of hundreds, it's all worth their while.

I'm not sure what we can do to combat this blight. Perhaps with those who err from inexperience, it's our opportunity to help educate them. Help them to see that establishing a relationship is more valuable than a single unwilling sale. Help them to understand that an advocate in their corner can bring them more business than they can on their own.

If, however, they are doing what they are doing with full knowledge of the deceit they are practicing, get the word out. Let folks know that they are walking into a bad situation. Don't shy away because you fear you will lose the good will of the bait-and-switcher. A relationship with them simply isn't worth the trouble.

Am I wrong?

Photo credit: Cory Doctorow

Saturday, November 6, 2010

How Quickly Things Change

Lisa and I went out to lunch today with a group whom I've known for well over a decade (in fact, with some of them, I'm closing in on two decades). We brought along our three-year-old, Kaylie, as we were without a nanny for the day. Now, all of the folks in the group have met my daughter at some point or another, but it has been a while for most of them. Many remarked about how much she had changed since the last time they saw her. Of course, anyone with young children could tell you how much of a difference even a few months can make in their development.

This makes me think about how important it is to keep in regular contact with the folks in your network. Maybe they aren't going to change physically as much as my daughter has, but still a lot of things can happen in a fairly short amount of time. In my own network I know people who've gone through changes in a variety of places in their lives:

Careers: I have one gentleman in my network who I actually see on a regular basis, though usually only in passing. Between one in-depth conversation and another, he had left the law firm where he had worked for twenty years in order to pursue a new career as a professor at the University of Michigan.

Employment: With the economic climate over the past few years, we've all heard about people losing their jobs with little or no warning. The sooner you learn about someone seeking a new position, the sooner you can engage your network to help them.

Location: I contacted another of my local networking friends -- one who happens to share Kaylie's birthday. It had been a while since we had chatted. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only was he pursuing a new career, but had moved out East to pursue it!

Family Setting: This can change for good or ill. A friend or colleague can suddenly find himself bereft of a family connection through death or divorce. On the other hand, a marriage or birth can add different stresses to someones life. Either way, we really want to be there to support them.

Health: Illness is a hard burden to bear, but it's certainly worse alone. Being there to supply chicken soup or just a supportive shoulder can make a world of difference in someones life. Likewise, when they've achieved some health goal, whether it's reaching their desired weight or running in a marathon, most want to share the celebration with those who care about them.

The highs and lows, graduations and failed driving tests, lottery winnings and lost fortunes, whatever the celebration or calamity, people, in general, want to share the stories of their lives. Their only limitation is a societally imposed restriction about talking about ourselves. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just touch base and ask "So what's up with you?"

Then, just settle back and listen.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Setting Self-Dependent Networking Goals

Why would they jump the bar
that you set?
I'm a strong proponent of setting goals in your networking practice. Starting with simple goals for attending events, to larger ones about the levels you will reach on your networking scorecard, goals help us achieve the levels of networking activity that we need to accomplish what we desire in life.

One thing I am careful about with regard to these useful tools: I try to make sure that any goals I set are almost completely dependent on my actions, not the actions of others. Anytime we try to break that guideline, we are setting ourselves up for a lot of frustration.

For example, setting the goal to receive four referrals each week is probably not the best way to go. How can you control whether someone has a referral for you? Maybe a better option would be a goal to ask for a referral once or twice a week.

A limiting goal might be to have five people call you for coffee over the next month. A better one would be for you to call five people to arrange a coffee.

Setting a goal to sign $100,000 in contracts might not lead you to happiness and contentment. Setting the goal to record your networking scorecard each night to make sure you are maintaining the networking levels that should lead to those contracts would probably be a more achievable one.

In general, to avoid frustration and the resulting abandonment of goal-setting, stay away from setting goals that depend on someone else's behavior. Really, the only one you can take responsibility for is yourself. Any improvements in your networking practice, therefore, have to come from setting the bar on your behavior.

Photo credit: Kriss Szkurlatowski

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Myth: Networking is Sales

Are you trying to meet the sheep or
the shepherd?
I was attending a networking event this morning -- Bruce Webb's amazingly awesome Educational Breakfast -- when I ran into this particular myth. It was the end of the meeting and everybody was packing up and getting in a last few minutes of conversation. I had been introduced as next month's speaker earlier in the meeting, so there were a few people who came up to me to say they were eager to hear what I had to say.

One gentleman told me that he was looking forward to it because he felt this was an area in which he had a lack. "I can talk with people at events, but I just can't seem to close the sale with them later."

Sigh. I don't blame this gentleman. After all a lot of people hold this view of networking.

OK, yes, for some, that's all that networking is -- a means to get sales and improve their business. That's OK. Done properly, networking will lead to sales in the future. That said, though, trying to close business with someone at a networking event isn't networking. It's sales.


There's nothing particularly wrong with sales, but just because you engage in that activity at a networking event doesn't make it networking. Sales, at its base, is about convincing someone that they want to buy what you have to sell. The ultimate goal of networking is to create and nurture mutually beneficial, long-term, give and take relationships. Those relationships are what will eventually deliver the sales that you are seeking.

And support you in your success in all areas of your life.

Let's put that in a more agrarian analogy. Someone who approaches an event wearing their "sales hat" views the other attendees as sheep that they have to chase down and shear to gain benefit from the interaction. Someone wearing the "networking hat" views the other attendees as potential shepherds who will go out into flocks you've never seen and bring you the sheep who want you to shear them.

So if you ever hear someone referring to "closing sales" when talking about their networking practice, understand that what they are talking about is not in fact "networking". It is "sales". It's still a noble pursuit, but the specific results they are seeking are different from those of a networker and the techniques they will employ will, therefore, also take a different path.

You just have to decide which "hat" you want to wear.

Photo credit: Flickr user yuko_okuy

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Day Networking

I had an interesting observation the other night while I was doing some research to prepare to head out to vote on Tuesday. I was going through the AnnArbor.com voter guide -- reading up on the different candidates for the various offices. I ran into the bio for one gentleman where, in response to every personal question, he responded with "WDYTTIR" or "Why do you think this is relevant?" The point he was trying to make was that it was more important that he have good ideas and the ability to carry them out than whether he was married and had kids.

I can understand his point of view, but at the same time, if he carried out his campaign with this attitude, I'll be supremely surprised if he is elected.

Listen, politics, almost more than any other profession, is all about networking. It's who you know and who knows you that gets you nominated, it's the people who feel connected to you who get you elected, and it's the connections you make in the "halls of power" that allow you to get things done. If people don't like you or even don't know you, you are pretty much doomed to failure.

So, this guy obviously felt pretty strongly about maintaining his private life. Unfortunately, he forgot that unless you let people know who you are and what's important to you on a personal level, they aren't going to feel like they can know and trust you. They won't want you to lead a neighborhood bakesale, let alone run some aspect of the government upon which they depend.

Photo credit: Denise Cross

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Speaking of Speaking

I've been slowly increasing the number of presentations I give lately. At this point, my selfish reason for doing them is to increase my reputation as someone who knows something about networking. Of course, in the process, I have to establish myself as someone who provides value to those around him (and has value to provide, for that matter). As a fledgling speaker, when I attend events now, half of my mind is listening to the information the speaker is presenting and the other half is observing how he or she is presenting it.

For those who are in the same boat, there are a number of coaches, like my new friend Eleni Kelakos, who can help you feel more comfortable in front of an audience. You can also consider joining a group like Toastmasters International. That's a great place to practice speaking in front of a supportive group. In the meantime, here are a few of my observations.

Stories, stories, stories. Everyone loves a good story. Illustrate your points with good stories. Use emotion and imagery to capture your audience's attention and engage their sympathies. Do you remember the last presentation where all you heard was dry statistics? No? Neither do I.

Engage the senses. Different people have different preferred mechanisms for learning. Some prefer visuals, others do best with auditory, still others need some sort of tactile experience. I know a speaker down in Toledo who passes out "stress balls" to the crowd, actually making a bit of a game about it. He starts a line of balls passing around the room in both directions. The first side to pass out all of its balls wins. Everyone gets engaged and everyone has fun. I'm guessing they're all a bit more predisposed to listen to him, too.

Don't throw things. I know another guy who, attempting to do the same thing and engage the crowd, instead of passing the stress balls, actually throws them to people in the room. In general, it's a bad idea to throw things at your audience. If the person catches it, no problem. If they miss, then you've just allowed them to fail in front of the whole room. Or, maybe, they might miss and catch whatever you threw in the middle of their face. That would certainly win them over.

Make eye contact. I've noticed some of the best speakers actually make direct eye contact with members of the audience. They maintain that contact for the amount of time it takes them to make a point, then move to the next person. I've tried this and it actually makes being in front of a whole room a lot easier for me. I'm no longer speaking to a large crowd, but instead I'm having a conversation with one person at a time.

Don't read your speech. No matter how good you are at reading out loud, you will never sound as genuine reading your speech as you do if you speak from notes or without notes at all. Remember that the best presentations are essentially a conversation with your audience. Would you read a conversation with a friend?

Have a beginning, middle, and end. Could you imagine listening to a story that just starts, meanders around for a little while without any sort of plot development, and then ends abruptly without any resolution? Most of us would be confused and bored and would probably stop listening after a fairly short amount of time. Why would we think that a presentation should be any different?

Don't force them to be responsive. I hate it when someone comes up to the podium and says "Good Morning!" (or whatever the appropriate greeting would be) and then when the response from the crowd is tepid tries to generate enthusiasm by saying something to the effect of "Oh, come on! You can do better than that! Good morning!!" Maybe the speaker doesn't realize it, but it feels forced, it feels fake, and I really don't enjoy being put into the role of the errant schoolboy who needs to be taken to task for less-than-stellar behavior. If you want me to be enthusiastic, then say something interesting.

Show emotion. If you have passion for your topic, then show it. Get excited. Raise your voice a little (though I would avoid the full "raging against the machine crazy evangelist screaming", if you can avoid it). Some of the most powerful presentations I've ever seen were ones where the speaker became so emotionally involved in what they were saying that you could hear the catch in their voice. You showing emotion and passion is you allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It gives your audience the opportunity to connect with you on a whole different and deeper level.

Never tell them you are nervous. Never ask if they're bored. The first does really does nothing to help your case. In fact, it's only likely to increase the level of your nervousness. Most of the time, the audience is going to be sympathetic toward you anyway. We've all been there and we remember that feeling. If you are asking the second, then they probably are. Really, if they said they were bored would you change what you were doing? Stick with your speech. Make it interesting and engaging and you will never have to worry if they're bored.

Know how long you have to speak. If you are preparing a presentation, you must know how long it will be. For most of us, we can talk about our topics of interest for anything from one minute to two hours, but it would be bad to start your two-hour talk only to be cut off after fifteen minutes.

Never use PowerPoint. OK, "never" may be a strong word here, but I've seen about two people who really know how to use this presentation tool in such a way that it actually improves their speech. I've seen two or three others who do a good job and don't hurt themselves.

And then there are all the rest of us.

Skillful PowerPoint use involves mostly imagery and very little text which contribute to but don't duplicate what you are saying. I've heard the rule that a slide should never have more than five words on it. If you can't keep to those rules, then just step back from the computer and keep your hands in plain sight at all times.

Practice, practice, practice. My best presentations were the ones that I spent them most time preparing and rehearsing. Conversely, the least successful ones tended to be the ones that I first practiced in the car on the way to the presentation venue. According to some of the best speakers I've met, you want to be so practiced that you sound unpracticed. Only at that point will it flow like a conversation.

Remember, the primary reason we present in a networking context is not to sell. It's not to inform. It's not to educate. Rather  our first and foremost goal is simply to get them to like us. If we can get past all of the technical aspects of speaking (and avoid those behaviors that put barriers between us and our audience) then we have the opportunity to make ourselves a little vulnerable and engage their interest. After that, your audience is far more likely to listen to what you have to say.

Photo credit: Vicky S

Monday, November 1, 2010

Write, Write and Write Some More

We've talked already about some of the areas where writing can help in networking. In particular, testimonials and Gratitude Notes can do a lot to deepen an existing relationship. Now let's think about a different kind of writing. This one is just as complimentary, but mainly because of its venue. In this case it's the practice of mentioning them in a newsletter or other public information source.

As with any other type of written piece about them, whatever you say must be a sincere representation of your perceptions of them. If you write about them merely mention their name without a true belief as to the value of their cause, business, or practices, that lack of sincerity will shine through in every line you type -- doing you and your relationship more harm than good.

Done with sincerity, however, a written public piece has a number of benefits. First, it acts as a kind of testimonial. After all, you aren't going to write about someone who you don't care about or don't want to see succeed. Next, it probably highlights some aspect of that person about which they are proud -- giving them some external validation for their actions. Finally, it quite often means that you've spent some extra time with them to find out more about them and to make sure you've gotten the details right.

The question arises then: What should I write about and where can I do it? Let's look at a few ideas.

Do you belong to a group or association with a newsletter? Chances are whoever is in charge of it is always looking for content. Offer to write a regular "Member Spotlight" column. Who wouldn't like to have a half-page article written about them? If your association doesn't have a newsletter, you could always offer to start one.

If you blog about a particular topic, you might pick someone in your network to talk about how they apply "best practices" in your topic of interest. Of course, in the article you can mention their business or any other aspect of their life which supports or relates to their exemplary behavior.

You can even use their own words if you want. If you have a regular venue, electronic or "dead tree" edition, asking someone to contribute an article allows them to voice their opinion, to publish at least the information about them and their business as readers would expect in a short bio (usually with a link to more information), and gives them recognition as an expert in the topic. Giving them that opportunity is likely to bump you up a notch in their book. One of the easiest ways to do this would be if you read something that they wrote that you like, ask them for permission to reprint it in your venue.

I'm sure I've neglected some other options of using the written word to strengthen your relationships. The big thing to remember is that at the bottom of it all, you must follow this practice with a sincere high regard for this person and what they do. If you think about it, you are holding this person up as a hero in your estimation -- which says almost as much about you as about them.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user lucasrag