Meeting new people is often a fear right up there with public speaking, says Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. Oddly enough, I have no fear of public speaking but despite the thousands on my LinkedIn page, I do get nervous in one-on-one meetings. But, knowing that most everyone else has the same or similar fears, actually helps me enter the lion’s den of networking.
“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by spectacular preparation,” Robert Schuller (Ferrazzi 66). Like any endeavor, being successful at anything means being prepared. If you are going into a conference or trade show with the intent of building relationships, do your homework first – Ferrazzi says that all people care, more than anything else, about what it is they do, and if you can step into their world and talk their talk, it will be appreciated (Ferrazzi 67).
The Internet is a great resource for finding about about both an industry an the key players within that industry. You should also look at annual reports, literature from the company’s PR department and develop an understanding of the key products and services the company provides, and challenges the company faces.
Now, check the agenda for the conference. Identify the people you want to talk to and arrange to be in the right place and the right time to meet them. But, you want to be remembered and make a good connection so the best time to meet someone is before they make a presentation or before they become really popular at the conference. After they make a presentation, all of the minion wanna be’s come running up and you’re just another faceless name in a crowd.
Other keys to expanding your network:
- Never cold call if you can help it – find a name or reference to drop first – Ferrazzi calls it “drafting off a reference,” (Ferrazzi 83)
- Next, establish value – remember, its all about what you can do for them (Ferrazzi 85)
- Then, talk a little, say a lot – make it a quick, convenient interaction with a call for follow up action (we should get together next week…) (Ferrazzi 85). Try for a lot, it will help you settle for what you ultimately need. If you need a coffee together, ask for a lunch.
This type of relationship building is sort of like dating in a respect. You don’t want to talk about yourself ad nauseam, telling the other person EVERYTHING about you, right out of the gate. There’s nothing to look forward too by doing that. You need to create interest and leave them wanting more – that way they will be sure to get together with you.
A few other hints – always respect the gatekeepers (Ferrazzi 87). They should be your besties (as the kids call their best friends these days). Gatekeeps, those stalwart secretaries and administrative assistants not only hold the key to access the person you want to connect with, they can often be your insider, helping you to sell your agenda to the boss.
Ferrazzi encourages his readers to “never eat alone.” Whenever you travel, see who is in the area that you can connect with. If you have multiple contacts in a town, then invite the group out – this sort of cross-networking maximizes your time and helps build other connections (Ferrazzi 96). I will put in a cautionary note here though – there may be some cases where some of your contacts don’t get along with each other so be sure to understand the relationships of your network before you invite mortal enemies to a fun little gathering at Starbucks.
And lastly, the ultimate key to a good network connection is to follow up! Follow up should be in a few days. Follow ups do have a shelf life – if you’re calling about the conference you met at 3 weeks ago, and this is your first contact since, you’re doing the equivalent of drinking sour milk. You must strike while the iron is hot. The wonderful thing about following up is that now you’re already met the person so you shouldn’t have to fear the next meeting with them.
Ferrazzi, Keith, and Tahl Raz. Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. New York: Currency Doubleday :, 2005. Print.