Sticking to the people we already know is a tempting behavior. But unlike some forms of dating, a networker isn’t looking to achieve only a single successful union. Creating an enriching circle of trusted relationships requires one to be out there, in the mix, all the time…
So what should your objective be in making small talk? Good question. The goal is simple: Start a conversation, keep it going, create a bond, and leave with the other person thinking, “I dig that person,” or whatever other generational variation of that phrase you want to use.
Keith Ferrazzi, Never Eat Alone
I have not shaken anyone’s hand since around March 19.
I have not engaged in small talk since around March 19.
We have a problem. A serious problem.
There is life before Covid-19, and life since Covid-19. And those are two very different worlds.
For 22+ years, I have shaken hands with people each month at the First Friday Book Synopsis, our monthly event in Dallas. Each month, there were new faces, new names, new hands to shake.
For a lot of years, I have done the same at the monthly gatherings of Success North Dallas. Yes, I agree, the premiere networking event in Dallas.
(Both of these events are currently on Zoom).
And then there have been other gatherings, and conferences, and…
I miss that. And, to be honest, I’m at a loss on how to do this networking thing when you can’t go to events that help facilitate networking.
Oh, sure, I enjoy seeing the tiny faces on my iMac when we are “gathered” via WebEx, or Zoom.
I’ve even been put into breakout rooms for conversations with a small group.
But, it’s not quite the same, is it? No, it’s not the same.
A 20th century rhetorical theorist named Kenneth Burke said that life is like a cocktail party. He said that at a cocktail party, you try out this conversation, then you float over to that one, until you find the one that fits; one that arouses your curiosity, and interests you, and you join in.
It takes a kind of bouncing around, from group to group, from conversation to conversation, until you find THE conversation; YOUR conversation.
But, you’ve got to have a room with a fair number of people gathered for that to happen.
My wife has now heard more of my thoughts about business books and blog posts than she ever has; than she has ever wanted to hear. I love her, and value her opinion. But, it’s not quite the same.
So, how do you never eat alone when you only get to eat alone?
I don’t have a solution. Just consider this as a “this is our current reality” lament.
We’ve gone from this
“Needy politicians, like Bill Clinton, recharge at political events,” says Alter. “But, for Obama, they deplete rather than create energy.”
Maureen Dowd, The Ungrateful President, 8/8/12
Call it what you want. The ability to schmooze. The ability to network. The ability to meet new people, hover around and have good, meaningful conversations, the ability to network.
But it boils down to this. You’ve got to get out there and mix and mingle and meet and converse and interact.
So, I was reading the Maureen Dowd column, quoted above, and realized that there is a simple test to see if you are a “natural” at this or not. Here is the test:
After you have mixed and mingled for a while, do you feel energized, or drained?
If you are energized, thank your lucky stars (or your parents’ genes, or your God). If you feel drained, I’m sorry. But, even if you feel drained, you’ve got to make yourself get out there and do it. (You know – “just do it!”). There is no other path to business success, business connections, a better business future, than the path of being really good at making and nurturing connections with other people.
Does it matter where you do this? Not that much. Sure, some gatherings are more fertile for great connections than others, but you never know when that one conversation, no matter where it happens, will put you on the right path for the next breakthrough moment for your career.
It may not matter where you connect, but it does matter how often you do it. So, how often? Really, really often. Regularly. Weekly. More than once a week. All the time.
Consider these quotes from the terrific book (kind of the “get out there and meet folks” classic book) by Keith Ferrazzi: Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (The Ultimate Networker Reveals How to Build a Lifelong Community of Colleagues, Contacts, Friends, and Mentors):
“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.” (Margaret Wheatley).
“There is no such thing as a “self-made” man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.” (George Burton Adams).
Sticking to the people we already know is a tempting behavior. But unlike some forms of dating, a networker isn’t looking to achieve only a single successful union. Creating an enriching circle of trusted relationships requires one to be out there, in the mix, all the time.
In one word, Connect. In four better words: Connect with the connectors.
So, what are you doing sitting at your computer reading this. Get out there and meet some folks. Today! And tomorrow. And next week.
And learn to let this energize you. Because nothing is more energizing than the right conversation with the right person on the right issue. Right?
It almost doesn’t matter. Seriously – it almost doesn’t matter. Market yourself any way you want to. Use social media, use the D-R-I-P method. Use the farming approach of a good real estate agent. Refine your elevator speech. Get serious about using Constant Contact.
Yes, of course there are ways to do it that are better than other ways. But it almost doesn’t matter which approach you take.
If you really want to market yourself – then, market yourself.
Do some marketing of yourself every week (nearly every day!). Carve out some actual time for marketing yourself. Write; meet; network; send out stuff. Put your body inside a bunch of elevators so that you can give that wonderful new elevator speech. Write blog posts, and put them up on a blog. And send out notes to everyone in your known universe to let them all know that you are writing good stuff on a blog. Fill your pockets (or purse) with good, attractive, memorable business cards – with the address of your blog on those cards – and hand them out at those networking events.
Go to those networking events.
If you don’t market yourself, who will?
Listen my children and you shall hear
of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm…
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
We all know the story. Here’s the account from Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point:
In two hours, Paul Revere covered thirteen miles. In every town he passed through along the way – Charlestown, Medford, North Cambridge, Menotomy – he knocked on doors and spread the word, telling local colonial leaders of the oncoming British, and telling them to spread the word to others. Church bells started ringing. Drums started beating. The news spread like a virus as those informed by Paul Revere sent out riders of their own, until alarms were going off throughout the entire region.
Paul Revere’s ride is perhaps the most famous historical example of a word-to mouth epidemic.
Gladwell goes on to describe that one reason Revere’s ride worked so well was that it was Paul Revere who made that ride, and not someone else. Paul Revere was a world-class networker. People knew him – he knew people. When Paul Revere spread the news, it was not a stranger spreading that news – but a person they knew, recognized, trusted. He had credibility.
It reminds me a little about the time when Walter Cronkite, out of character for him, injected his opinion into a broadcast. He stated, simply, that Vietnam was not winnable – a stalemate was the best we could hope for. He stated it directly to the American people, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson famously responded:
“For it seems now more certain than ever,” Cronkite said, “that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.” After watching Cronkite’s broadcast, LBJ was quoted as saying. “That’s it. If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”*
The common thread here is this: when a person speaks, the more known/connected that person is, the more trusted, the more credible…then the more people will respond.
It takes a while (a lifetime?) of networking, of building a reputation of reliability, of building true credibility, to have that kind of impact.
So – make every connection you can. Make those connections “strong ties” (Gladwell again). Because, one of these days, you are going to need people to listen to what you have to say.
* Yes, I am aware that there is some element of myth to the Cronkite story and LBJ’s response. But, a myth is powerful — whether it gets details right or wrong. I tell my students that “a myth is a story that is true, whether it is true or not.”
Lifetime corporate employment is dead; we’re all free agents now, managing our own careers across multiple careers across multiple jobs and companies. And because today’s primary currency is information, a wide-reaching network is one of the surest ways to become and remain thought leaders of our respective fields.
Keith Ferrazzi, Never Eat Alone And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time
Fact: Networking has never been more important.
Problem: So many networking events turn out to be something of a waste of time.
But we don’t know which events will be worth it – and which will be really valuable.
What to do?
Let me weigh in with a simple observation. We really are able to do two things at once – or, at least, squeeze two purposes into one gathering.
So, let’s try this formula:
Networking + Content = Greater Value.
OK, I admit, I’m biased. But, yes, I have just described the First Friday Book Synopsis. For nearly thirteen full years, Karl Krayer and I have led a monthly event that has both of these two ingredients with, what I think, is just the right mix. On the first Friday of January, nearly 120 people gathered for great networking. They arrived beginning at 6:40 am, and mingled, conversed, exchanged business cards, met new people, and talked about how they could help and support each other.
And then, at 7:25, the content started, with two fast paced synopses of two terrific books, each with a valuable multi-page handout.
At 8:05, we were finished. The networking continued for many, but those who needed to go elsewhere were out the door just after 8:05.
I think this formula is a good one for any networking group/event.
Of course, there are many ways to facilitate the networking component. And there are many ways to provide terrific content – a good speaker; useful topics. I admit, again, that I am biased toward our formula, because it has a built-in “keep it current” approach. The books themselves provide a constantly changing “topic,” because each good business book offers valuable help/wisdom/counsel to those who aspire toward life-long learning and constant improvement. And, this is always the essence of content: “how can I keep learning in order to keep getting better?”
For those who just want to network, make sure you have adequate time built in to do that. For those who want just content, make it worth their while. And for those who seek both, this formula is a slam dunk.
Networking + Content = Greater Value.
Content + Networking = Greater Value.
Last Friday, I presented my synopsis of the book Power by Jeffery Pfeffer. I referred to Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. As I thought about these books, I thought about a skill that is so front and center obvious. In these, and many other books, it is taken for granted, but it probably should be mentioned, and reinforced often: the skill of being a good conversationalist really is the starting place for everything else that follows.
Are you good at the art of conversation? If you are, consider yourself lucky. If not – you’ve got some work to do.
Years ago I heard this definiton (I forget where I heard this, or who said it – my apology to the source):
What is a conversation? The first person speaks while the second person listens. Then the second person speaks while the first person listens. This is called turn-taking.
This is so simple – yet profound. When the other person is speaking, it is your job to listen. It is not your job to be thinking about what you will say next, what you will say in response… but it is your job to listen. If you take your turn at listening, with sincerity and respect and focus, then you have a better chance at being heard when it us your turn to speak.
Anything less than this “listen-speak” turn-taking is not quite a true conversation.
I have not read this book, but I have put it in my “one of these days” stack (so many books – so little time): The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure by Catherine Blyth. Here are a few lines from the book (thanks to Amazon “first pages”)”
All communication is dialogue…
Don’t talk to strangers” Don’t speak until spoken to?
Forget it. Inhibition is useless. How do you start a conversation? Simple: Say hi. It’s easy to say.
And here are three of her five maxims:
Think before you speak.
Listen more than speak.
So, here is your assignment for the week. Have some good conversations. Starting today…