A few years back, on a trip from Abu Dhabi to Newark, ArchPoint partner Bob Landis was seated beside a very capable young man. The two struck up a conversation that led, within a few months, to Landis offering the young man a corporate affairs position within the company he worked with at the time.
On a flight from Frankfort, Germany to Almaty, Kazakhstan, Landis met a retired banker with significant experience on non-profit boards. Again, a friendly exchange led to more meaningful conversation. Ultimately, Landis was able to connect the retired banker’s resources to a charity doing work in Haiti.
On the final leg of a long journey home, Landis met a recent MBA, who had just joined a company where ArchPoint was currently doing work. During their conversation, the young MBA was able to provide valuable insights on the company’s corporate culture that made the engagement more effective for everyone.
Landis’ experiences prove that networking doesn’t have to be cheesy, but it doesn’t only take place on airplanes.
Amy Lazarus, another ArchPoint partner, joined Virtual Peer Network, a women’s networking group in Atlanta. One of the members was an acquaintance from Lazarus’ days at her former Fortune 100 Company. The two met for lunch and compared notes about their experiences, which was particularly interesting as they had both moved on to new roles about the same time. That conversation led to a consulting engagement with the woman’s new firm and a friendship that has endured over the years.
As Landis and Lazarus demonstrate, everyone stands to gain from forging new or nurturing old relationships.
At its core, networking is about building relationships — real relationships. Not only do relationships help people find new and better jobs, relationships make you more successful in your current position and lead to greater fulfillment in life in general.
Maybe you’re making networking more complicated than it needs to be. Here are some tips:
Never Eat Alone.
If you travel for work, think ahead. Chances are that you have an old friend who lives in the city you’re visiting. Give him or her a call or send an email a few days in advance of your visit to see if the two of you could get together for dinner. These almost-impromptu encounters not only enhance your travel experiences, but the reconnection to an old friend can lead to a variety of networking possibilities. In fact, if connecting isn’t your thing, start by re-connecting. Facebook and LinkedIn come to the rescue. Dormant relationships can be helpful on a number of levels. In some cases, friends you’ve lost touch with may be even more helpful than current contacts.
Stop Working The Room.
Who likes the feeling that the person you’re in a conversation with keeps looking over your shoulder for someone more interesting or important to talk to? No one.
If you’re that person, don’t think for a moment that the person you are speaking with doesn’t notice. When you’re spending more time and energy looking for your next great professional hook up than focusing on the person you’re talking to, everyone loses — including you.
Join An Industry Association.
With nearly 10,000 industry associations in the United States, finding one that fits your exact niche is not difficult. Joining such a group is usually easy as well. Getting involved is usually time well spent. Investing time with like-minded professionals is not only a great way to make connections, it’s also a way to jumpstart your brain about the way you’re doing the work you’re currently doing.
Make Technology Work For You.
Join or create groups on LinkedIn, home to an amazing array of industry and professional groups that can lead to international and local connections and relationships. Becoming a real part of the group requires actively participating in the conversations, including commenting on questions asked or posing specific queries to the group.
Use your calendar to set reminders once a week to check your LinkedIn group(s). You can also use your calendar to remind you to email and check in with current or prospective clients — or even to remind you to read specific blogs. Remember to offer relevant feedback. Building positive relationships with key industry bloggers can lead to your being interviewed as an expert source for a story. Knowing that you’ve designated specific time to connect with the folks atop your list will ease the pressure you feel from doing it every day.
Go Left, Instead Of Going Right.
Change your routine. Take a different route to work. Try to eat at a new restaurant at least once a week for ten consecutive weeks — even though it sounds simple, watch how that simple difference forces you to change your routes and routines.
Simple changes create a cascade of differences in your life. When you join a new club or go to a series of different restaurants, invariably, you will bump into different people. In fact, you could even invite friends you haven’t seen in a while who live in that part of town to meet you at that restaurant.
Sometimes, we unwittingly get into ruts in our lives. We run in the same circles and repeat the same conversations with the same people. Mixing up your life by taking on the challenge of visiting ten different restaurants in your hometown creates a surprising amount of change. You will start new conversations. And, you have the opportunity to build new relationships or get reacquainted with old friends and business associates.
Read The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. Identify The “Connectors” In Your Life — And Nurture Those Relationships.
Connectors are the people who make change happen by bringing the right people together. They’re natural hubs. These are people who start flipping through their mental Rolodex finding just the person who knows what you need. And, they LOVE connecting you with each other because that’s what they do.
Think about the people you know. Who helped you get your job? What about your previous job? Who has introduced you to most of your friends? Find the patterns in your life. For most of us, a significant portion of our friends and opportunities come through a surprisingly small number of people.
For example, in an article for the Harvard Business Review, Brian Uzzi and Sharon Dunlap discussed that one of the reasons Paul Revere was so successful on his ride through the countryside was that he was the “connector” who bridged difference cliques in a larger social network. Uzzi and Dunlap suggest considering your key contacts and how you first met them. List your primary friends and business contacts on the right side of a piece of paper. Then, write the name of the person who introduced you to your contact beside each name. This simple exercise will reveal the “connectors” in your life.
The next step is clear and simple — nurture those relationships. These people know people and can help you know more. In all likelihood, many connectors have organized formal or not-so-formal ways of getting all the people in their lives together. Find out — or even offer to help organize such an event. A little effort toward building these existing relationships can go a long way.
Take Out Your Ear Buds.
Have a conversation with the person sitting beside you. You don’t have to invest your whole trip in the person beside you, but having a short conversation could lead to something meaningful. Give it a try.
Host A Dinner Party.
Our culture is so geared toward going out to eat that most people truly relish an invitation into someone’s home, and, for the record, Friday nights are underrated for dinner parties. If you’re not a cook, find someone who is or have your affair catered. Invite six to ten people to your dinner party, depending on space.
Plan your menu carefully. If you’re not a natural cook, practice. Have fun with appetizers and dessert. It’s okay to not have a meal full of serious, refined food. If you’re bad at making small talk during dinner, try one of the dinner party questions at the end of the article.
The most important element of hosting a successful event in your home is your genuine caring that other people enjoy themselves. If you’ve never hosted a dinner party, be up front and tell them so. Perhaps, start with people who know you well and love you anyway and then move on to people you’d like to get to know better.
Always invite a few people you know very well and mix up the guest list as you gain confidence.
Breaking bread with others takes the relationship to a deeper level.
Conversation-starting questions to ask at your next dinner party:
• Is the best kind of vacation relaxing and doing nothing or sightseeing and doing everything?
• What moment changed the way you look at life?
• What’s the most entertaining concert you’ve seen?
• Have you ever run into someone you knew when you were far from home?
• If you could compete in any Olympic event, which would it be?
• If you could change one day in world history, which would you choose?
• What three words would you use to describe yourself?
• Besides your family who has known you the longest?
• Outside of your family, who has been the biggest influence on your life?
• What was your mother’s signature dish?
• If it were necessary to add two countries to the U.S., which would you pick?