Articles > Become the Consummate Connector

Become the Consummate Connector
Globe & Mail, October 26, 2007

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from the senior marketing manager of a major company who wanted to meet to talk about women and work. She'd been given my name, she said, but I quickly got the sense that she knew little about my background or expertise. So I gently brushed her off.

However, she didn't go away. Soon after, I received another e-mail. This one was sheepish but witty. And it got my attention.

We arranged to meet. And what was supposed to be a 30-minute get-together stretched into more than two hours.

She was charming and funny. She shared engaging stories and insights about herself and her company. She had also clearly taken the time to learn about me and my work, and offered kind words about both. We definitely made a connection. And I predict we will connect again.

Sadly, my experience with this woman is relatively rare in the networking world. Many people, especially at this time of year, expect to meet face-to-face for a couple of hours, woodenly tell you about themselves in I'd-rather-watch-paint-dry detail, pump you for even more contacts, and then fly off, not to be heard from again for years. That's if they even bother to show up, as arranged, in the first place.

Last week, I devoted a column to the faux pas of networking. This week, a primer on how to network effectively to make an impact, and make everyone's time worthwhile:

Do your homework

Mine all resources to learn as much as you can about the person, his or her company and industry, ranging from trends in the field to changes at the firm to personal accomplishments. What you pick up not only shows you've taken the time to do your homework but should become the foundation on which you build your meeting. Offer congratulations on any rewards or significant accomplishments - there's nothing wrong with a bit of sincere flattery.

Get to the point quickly

Reiterate succinctly why you wanted to get together. After the ice is broken, keep small talk to a minimum - unless the other person wants to engage in it. Summarize all key information. Edit, edit, edit.

Make a connection

Being professional means you don't talk about your sex life or your psychotherapy. But you shouldn't come across as though you need a laxative. Smile. Show your personality. Tell an interesting anecdote. If you are meeting in the other person's environment, comment on something you've noticed, such as the artwork.

Give and take

It's a two-way street, so expect the person you've met to walk away rewarded as well. Inform and amuse. Pass on interesting industry trends and gossip. Engage with story-telling. You should also pick up interesting tidbits: a trend, gossip or insider knowledge. After every meeting, you should be able to complete the following sentence: "I just learned ..."

Recognize expertise

If you are meeting with someone because he or she is an expert in their field, don't lecture the person on the topic. This is one of the most egregious - and surprisingly common - mistakes people make. If you need to set the context for something to say, segue with a brief sentence that begins with, "As you know..."

Err on the side of formality

Remember: You aren't pals. Don't be overly familiar or make assumptions about shared values. Don't use nicknames with someone you don't know, and, if you are contacting someone significantly older, initially address them as Ms., Mr. or Dr.

There is a time and a place

Only a bore accosts someone at a party with a long marketing spiel. A friend says she immediately throws away the business card of anyone who aggressively markets her in a social setting. Someone who can't read interpersonal signals better than that is not someone she wants to do business with.

Be a connector

That's someone who can build bridges between people and their ideas. They can talk to anyone, always pick up useful nuggets of knowledge, create an ever-widening circle, and share it all freely. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton is the consummate connector, whether meeting with top business leaders or judging a watermelon-growing contest.

Network broadly

Being a good connector means cultivating relationships with people from a wide range of disciplines. That helps you marry disparate types of information in new and creative ways in your work. We can't all be Mr. Clinton, but we can learn how to step out of our comfortable circles of friends and co-workers to experience new people and ideas.

Make it easy to connect

Most people have a knee-jerk belief that a face-to-face meeting is the most effective way to connect. In fact, more introverted people usually prefer not to meet this way. Instead of requesting a one-on-one get-together, ask for 15 minutes of someone's time, and let them decide how: in person, by phone or by e-mail. If you are engaging, the encounter will last longer, and the person will show a willingness to reconnect.

Think knowledge exchange

Successful networking usually isn't about immediate concrete payoffs. Sure, you might walk out with a job or a client lead. Or you might walk out with a smile from a really interesting conversation, a new understanding about an industry, or a tip or contact that you can pass on to someone else.

Spark your connections

Contacts are made more easily through personal introductions but if you have nobody in common, initiate them yourself. I often get e-mail from people whom I don't know or share a connection with, but I have been charmed into wanting to meet someone who shows familiarity with my work and a bit of personality.

Follow up

Always send a thank-you note that includes a few sentences about why you found the encounter helpful. Send flowers or wine to those who were particularly generous with their time and help. Continue to stay in touch, with appropriate contact. For example, if someone puts you on to somebody, let him or her know you've made contact. Or, if you see an article of interest, send it along.

Pay it forward

The best way to thank people who have been helpful to you: Keep it going. Generously share your time, wisdom and contact with others.

Shine at networking

How do you measure up as a networker? Take this quiz. The more items you answer with a "yes," the more effective you are.

Are you comfortable approaching people you don't know?
Do you go out of your way to make others feel good about themselves?
If you lost your job tomorrow, would you have a network of people who could support you?
Do you know people from diverse disciplines?
Can you talk about things other than those directly related to your job and industry?
Can you explain what you do in 30 seconds in a way that someone in a completely different field would understand?
Do you spend more time listening and asking than talking?
Do you show a genuine interest in other people?
Do you network on a continuing basis, as opposed to only when you need something?
Do you keep people informed of what's happened after you've met on items that pertain to matters discussed in your meeting?
Do you think it's your responsibility to keep a meeting as interesting as possible?
Do you show your personality, for example, by smiling, telling a joke or sharing a personal story?
Can you summarize key events in your life?
Do people seem interested and engaged when you talk?
Do you share your time generously with others?
Do you look at networking in terms of giving, not just getting?
Do you change your spiel according to the expertise and style of the person with whom you're talking?
Do you always send a thank you note?

If you answered yes to all, congratulations. You are a brilliant connector. But most of us have a few trouble spots. Keep in mind what you answered "no" to, and think about what you can do differently.