Networking: Meeting the Big Fish

By Greg Brill, Founder of Infusion Development and Co-Founder of Infusion Angels

As an entrepreneur, you’ll regularly find yourself in an awkward position; you’ll need something from someone who doesn’t know you. You may need a technical opinion, introduction to someone else, funding, business advice…maybe there is someone you respect and just want to meet. Of course, these people might be wealthy, powerful, brilliant, intimidating…possibly, they may be all of those.

And then there’s you. Young, technically knowledgeable, full of great ideas and energy, but let’s face it: the only networking you know how to do probably involves Ethernet.

So how do you do approach someone you don’t know but need to know? Assume you’ve just heard someone speak at a seminar, and you want to talk to them afterwards. You will probably be relieved to hear that the ability to smooth talk doesn’t figure into it much. You don’t need to be slick, you need to just remember (and adhere to) the following rules of engagement:

a) Know what you want from a person *before* you approach them.

b) Introduce yourself with a polite greeting.

c) Get to “a” quickly

d) Listen to what they say

e) Secure follow-up action

f) Disengage

Call this the IPNP, the Inter-Personal-Networking-Protocol. I won't hold my breath for IEEE endorsement, but following these rules will help you develop meet, talk to, and develop initial relationships with people you encounter in social situations. Let’s go through them.

A: Successful people have limited time. So, when they meet you, they subconsciously try to do one of two things within the first few seconds: 1) disregard and dismiss you as quickly as possible or 2) if you seems credible, determine what you want of them and whether they are interested in helping. No matter how friendly they may be, this internal process is probably underway after “hello.” Therefore, know what you want of the person and be prepared to communicate that clearly very early on. Consider it like the thesis statement of an essay (remember writing those in high school?). If you know what you want, that will come across. It will keep them from disregarding you. If you are not clear on what you want in your own mind, you will appear ambling and will be shown the door.

B: There’s nothing wrong with being formal. When you are young, and you try to be slick it will come across a bit garish to the more worldly. Be polite, friendly and a little formal. It shows respect and sets you apart. When a more established, older person, sees a young, well-dressed, polite young professional…it will impress them right from the start. Seems old school and silly, it felt that way even to me when I was younger. But as I’ve gotten older and busier, I need to “thin slice” and size up people quickly. Polite professional demeanor is something I look for. Lack of it sets off an immediate flag.

C: Make it clear what you want from the person. Don’t try to engage them in small talk. You are not good at that and your counterpart doesn’t have the time and interest nor, probably, do you have enough shared experience in life. So, bring up very early on what you want of the person. You might think it is rude but actually, brevity is much appreciated by true business people. Business is nothing but the exchange of wants. What you want is the very language and structure of business. That is, what you want balanced by what they want. The venn between these two wants is opportunity, the proverbial “win win.” So get to the point already!

D: If you do A-C correctly, your contact will start talking now. He/she will respond to you and what you want. LISTEN. Shut up. Resist the urge to speak. If you have your contact talking, you have succeeded in a big way. Listen to what they say and look for the follow up action (E).

E: D should turn into a dialog between the two of you. If you are lucky, your contact will suggest a follow up. That might be “call me later and we can talk more” or “ok, I’ll introduce you to so and so” or “try what I suggest and let me know how it goes.” All these are good. They are follow-ups. Congratulations, you’ve succeeded. Now don’t screw it up. Move quickly to F. If the contact does not suggest a follow up, you might not have done C correctly. Correct if you can. If there is still nothing, then, you need to suggest the follow up item. If contact doesn’t seem to agree, hey…that’s life. You tried. Move to F. If your goal was just to meet the person and/or get a quick opinion on something, you don’t need a follow up item. Move to F.

F: Disengage. Make your exit. There is some traditional advice given to new salesman, “know when to stop selling.” A variant of this advice is, “Don’t sell when their signing.” There comes a point where you have “made the sale”. There is also a reason a TV commerical is 15 or 30 seconds and not an hour and a half. If you keep on jabbering, all you can do is un-sell what you just sold. So, if you have your follow-up item and/or you’ve communicated to this person what you needed to and D went well, then it is time for you to go. Relationships are built from repeated small touches in different circumstances, and NOT from long, deep encounters. Do not cling, hang around, or, as evanglists at Microsoft joke about, don’t “dock.” (they are referring to that particular breed of seminar attendee that ambles up to the presenter after the seminar and won’t leave. What you in Canada might call “keeners.”) Rest assured, if you hang around too long, you’ll wear out your welcome and you’ll force your contact to invent reasons to remove themselves from your presence. If that happens, you’ve undone the good work in A-E. So, better you remove yourself rather than have the contact start giving you hints like looking at his/her watch or saying, “I have a call I have to be on.” End the encounter like you started it, follow the rules of B. Thank the person for their time, quickly reiterate the follow-up item, and excuse yourself. When you excuse yourself you are actually asserting power. Your contact will be impressed at some subconscious level, and he/she may actually extend the conversation and keep you there (subconsciously they are trying to take the power back.) The psychology of all this may be the subject of a future article, for now, if you excuse yourself and they keep you around, congratulations! You’ve really impressed your contact.

Well, I’m well beyond my word count for this column. So, I’ll conclude with this offer: next time I speak at UofW, try these out on me. Or, for those of you interested in starting a venture with Infusion Angels and giving us a pitch, try these techniques out on any of my staff…I just bet you’ll find them and, perhaps, most successful people to be IPNP compliant!

1 comment :

  1. Excellent blog. I think trying to engage in small talk or attempting to say something creative is a mistake many young proffesional fall into.