After delivering a keynote for a client a few years ago, I drove home a way I hadn’t gone in 20 years. Nostalgia welled up in me as I went by my old high school, and then, my heart sank. A well loved teacher had passed away, and the farewell was posted outside the school. I hadn’t thought of him since 1976.
Funny how coincidences happen. Before I started that conference keynote, a woman approached me and said, “We know each other!” I agreed but it took moments before we realized the connection. Then, still before I started my keynote, another person approached and said, “Do you remember me? You facilitated a management workshop I attended at my previous employer’s place, last year!” Wow! What are the odds of that happening? I’m beginning to realize they’re greater than we think. The older you get, and the more you’re “out there”, the more it’s bound to happen. The question is, “Are you going to remember them, and are they going to remember you, fondly and with enthusiasm, or cynically and with contempt?”
How you put yourself out there, on a day-to-day basis, makes all the difference. Networking makes a lot of difference, too. I don’t mean in a manipulative, and cold hearted “only what’s in it for me” way, but in a way that is about staying in touch and connecting with people–sometimes being the conduit that connects two other good people, and sometimes being one of those two people brought together by a third party.
Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziggler said that the way to help yourself, and get what you want, is to help other people get what they want. This same philosophy was captured in the movie “First Knight”, in which Sean Connery played King Arthur and Richard Gere played Sir Lancelot. When King Arthur introduced Sir Lancelot to the Round Table, he pointed out the inscription carved in the table, “Through service to others, we serve ourselves”. When I saw that, I thought, “Wow! The original team builder! The original networker!”.
Networking means connecting, staying connected and/or reconnecting with people you admire, respect and value…and it’s just as valuable and important for colleagues within an organization to network with each other, as it is for entrepreneurs and the self-employed.
Here are five suggestions for elevating your networking effectiveness:
- Develop a sincere and friendly voice intonation (especially by phone, eg. practise by changing your voice mail daily; decide before recording your greeting, exactly how you want to come across to your incoming callers. Then, before you set that recorded daily greeting, play it back and listen to it to make sure it sounds exactly the way you want to come across. If it doesn’t…rub it out and start again. When you’re not available, your message represents you. Ask yourself: Is my greeting representing me well, or is it causing people to hang up without leaving a message, thinking I’m a sour puss, bored with my job and life…or worse? If you can’t honestly assess this for yourself, get a person whose opinion you respect, to call in, listen to your greeting, and give you their impressions. By the way…you’ll know that, “by Jove, I think I’ve got It!” when you start getting complimentary feedback from callers who say they want to call you everyday, just to hear your message and get a lift! People want to stay in touch with you even more if they consider you a source of inspiration! It makes them want to do business with you. It makes them proud to recommend you to people they know. No one wants to refer a “bore” or a “lacklustre personality” to a colleague or friend…for a blind date or an exciting new career opportunity.
- Ask lots of questions, in friendly conversation, of people you meet–everywhere! You can practice this with neighbours over the backyard fence, as well as with colleagues in a business setting. When you hear a point of concern or interest, if you have the resources, and are inspired to share them, help point the way ahead by offering to connect these people, with people you know (refer to point #3 for more suggestions about this). Work hard at increasing your own comfort with sharing “free” information and appropriate self-disclosure.
- Always, always always ask permission of your friend, business associate, colleague, or even family member, before referring a third person to your contact.
- Say “thank-you” sincerely and often! When I am the conduit connecting people, I love the boost of getting that call or email that says, “thanks…I really appreciated your help!” Most of us like to know when we’ve helped others get what they want. Be sure to call (or write, or email) what I call the “root” person, thanking them for the part they played in you getting what you wanted. Sometimes we slug away, day by day, doing what we know is “good work”, yet not always getting the kudos or reinforcement that we’re making a difference. Make sure you let these people know that they’ve made a difference for you!
- “Do What You Love: The Money Will Follow”: It’s the same with networking. Sincerely love to network and the opportunities will naturally follow. Trust the process and see for yourself.
We never know where our next opportunity to get help, or give help, will come. It doesn’t matter what end of the networking stick you’re on. Both ends have tremendous personal and professional “payoffs”!
And that brings me back to the passing of the beloved high school teacher. That news reminded me of a couple of really important teachers I experienced through the years (I hope you have a couple of them, too). I got to thinking that they probably didn’t know how very special they were and what lasting contributions they made. All of a sudden it became important to me to find and talk with my grade ten Geography teacher and my grade six teacher. I called both of my old schools. The administrative assistants at both schools promised to get messages to these teachers. Within two hours both had called! I ended up lunching with my Geography teacher. I also had the most wonderful and heart felt telephone conversation with my grade six teacher. We met for lunch. Today, these few years later, Miss Lakatos, a.k.a. “Judy”, is one of my dearest, inner circle friends! My private life is that much more enriched for drawing Judy back into my circle. That is reward enough for me. The serendipitous bonus is that Judy has a powerful circle of influence of her own and has been a wonderful champion of my professional services.
Let the magic of networking work for you, whether it’s in a company you’ve been with for 20 years, or whether you’re in between professional opportunities. Whether you’re focusing on the professional or the personal. Act on some of your whimsical and crazy ideas. Let them out of the box! Use your intuition. Be open to what ever it is that you get. When you dare to go outside, you open the door and you get the weather, what ever it is. All you really need is a little trust and faith!
So here’s my mandatory/voluntary assignment for you: Ask yourself: With whom would I like to reconnect if I only had the time, or the nerve, or could figure out just how to find them?” Maybe it’s not even a person you have to “dig up”. Maybe it’s a person you’ve always admired and, for some reason, let slip away…and you still know exactly how to find them. Got someone in mind? Now ask yourself: “What’s stopping me? Would I really like to do this? Let me figure out my first step to starting this process.”
Reconnect! Finding your “lost” people is a lot easier than you think–if you really, really want to! At the end of the day, all of business (and life, too, for that matter), is not about work…it’s about people and relationships and connections.