As social networking sites proliferate and mature, we’re all learning how to use these interesting new resources. True, it is just a modern take on “professional networking” – purposeful connections with different special interest groups, to share ideas and lay the foundation for current or future “opportunities”.
I’m involved with a couple of organizations like this – I like to connect with peers, and I like to know what’s going on in my city and in the industry. Recently I was talking with the organizer of one of these groups, and he asked what we could do to make our periodic meetings more valuable to the people that participate.
Most business meetings start the same way – a quick trip around the table, where everyone introduces themselves, gives their title and role, and typically talks about their expectations for the meeting, or what they want to get out of this next 60 minutes. That might be helpful at work, but when I’m at a networking meeting, there’s a different dynamic involved.
To tell the truth – I don’t really care what other people want to get out of the meeting … I’m trying to find out how they can help me. I’m looking for somebody who …
- … has experience in the technology I’m struggling with – or knows who I might call
- … can connect me with an interesting new job opportunity
- … has been at the company I am currently interviewing with, so I can get some inside information
- … is in the market for the goods or services I need to sell
- … has done whatever it is I’m trying to do and can tell me all the shortcuts
Yes, I’m here for myself – and I’m not all that interested in what you want. I’m interested in finding out what or who you know – not what you want to know.
In fact, if the meeting is large, I’ll probably tune the rest of you out, spending more time thinking about what I’m going to say (so I don’t sound stupid) than listening to you, because (again) I don’t care what you want, but I know I don’t want to sound silly when I speak.
Hmm, a room full of self-centered louts … how to warm up a crowd like that?
So, my idea for the Meeting Organizer was to turn the whole thing around; as we go around the table, everyone needs to present what I called their Networking CV (or Networking Resume). I need to explain to the folks around the table what I have to offer:
- Companies I’ve worked for
- What industries … pharma? manufacturing? financial? not-for-profit? high-tech?
- What business models … privately held? public? closely held? venture capital? entrepreneurial startup? Fortune 50?
- Roles in the business … developer? DBA? PM? Unit leader? Product Manager? Sales? Strategy? Operations?
- What technologies, and how deep is my experience?
- What kind projects have I been exposed to?
Remember, you only should take a few minutes to go through this – so how might I find out more?
- If you’ve got a detailed resume on the web, give out your site name – or give me a simple Google search term that will find you every time
- If you’re in a social network already (ex. LinkedIn), let folks know that you’re out there, tell them to send you an invite and you will accept it
- By the way – I’m on LinkedIn, send me an invite …
If we went around the table talking about this kind of stuff, I’d be listening intently to what everybody else is saying – because they’re telling me exactly what I need to hear.
It might be a good idea to set some structure and ground rules around what people can and should say. You don’t want folks to start bragging or going into too much detail. You just need to give out enough information to let folks know how you might help them. Not your accomplishments, but what you’ve been exposed to.
Now, at first blush this approach sounds both selfish and egotistical: I don’t care what you want, just listen to how great I am. That’s the stealthy, Zen trick behind this approach. By quickly identifying folks that I want and need to have conversations with, I will have more conversations, I will make more connections.
And the nice thing about those connections is that I’m coming to you for information – you’re not trying to push yourself on me. I’m interested in the stuff that you know, but since you told me what you know, I’m coming to you. I am initiating the connection; you may be here to sell something, but I’m going to you to talk about your experience in this industry.
All of the first conversations are me asking you for something freely offered
Why is this important? Because when you start asking me for stuff, the ice is already broken. You may be trying to get new business with my firm. You may be asking if I know of any positions in my company.
Some of our multiple, future conversations are you asking me for something I may not want to give (money, time, or reputation)
However – the relationship has already been started, and it’s built on mutual, opportunistic benefits, freely given. I know it’s much easier to “do business” with folks you know – maybe that’s the Chicago way …
So next time you’re at a networking event, or putting yourself “out there” on these social networking platforms, try to make it clear what you have to offer. Your first visibility into the network, your first conversation, your first post on the board should focus on what you have to offer, what you will add to the network.
It might be a good thing – altruism, pay it forward, power of positive thinking …
It might be a bad thing – cynical manipulation, selfish, giving a little and getting a lot …
But it is an effective thing …