Networking with purpose

Man Holding Card

Last Wednesday, I had planned to facilitate an event for Junior Chamber International – Toronto Chapter around Networking with Purpose. (Sadly, this incident got in the way of that.) Today I thought I would find another way to share some of my favourite tips and tools.

As young people, we are always working to establish ourselves. It is part of the rite of passage that each new generation must go through. But in this era of “friending” and “following”, the art of relationship-building seems to have gone out of fashion.

The term “networking with purpose” is a clever way to underscore the real meaning behind networking. It seems that somewhere along the way networking became less about relationship-building and more about exchanging small talk and business cards with as many people as possible. I’m not sure why that is. Regardless, I want to inspire people to redefine networking for themselves.

I may have only been on this earth for 31 years but I have been networking since the day I could talk. Here are a few tips from my treasured toolkit.

Orient yourself toward “quality” connections versus “quantity”. It can be tempting at an event to flutter from one person to another. I was once at a massive conference and a fellow attendee decided he wanted to meet every person in the room before the evening was over. There were hundreds of people there and with only 15 seconds per person, I failed to see what kind of quality interactions he could have. But then for me networking is about getting to know someone and sharing a bit about who you really are.

Let your mission be to START the conversation. Make the connection. Find the common ground. Start the conversation so that you can continue it. What is the goal? To get to KNOW someone (and in turn have them know you). What do you want to know about them? I call it the 4Ps.

  • Personality. What shines through about this person’s personality? Humour? Bravado? Sensitivity?
  • Passion. What gets this person all lit up? Their work? A hobby? A cause? Their family?
  • Profession. What kind of work do they do? (Know more than just their job title. You can use Google to search for that information.) Learn the essence of their expertise.
  • Possibility. What possibilities are there for future conversation? Is it a shared interest or perspective? A mutual friend or connection? A collaboration or related area of work? Look for the opportunity that offers mutual benefit.

*DO NOT be the overzealous sales person! This is not the time to make your sales pitch. If you are truly amazing at what you do, then people will give you the opportunity to bring them into that. Forcing yourself on them is a big gamble that rarely pays off.

Ask questions. Always arm yourself with a handful of thought-provoking questions that generate dialogue. (Warning: “So what do you do?” is a conversation killer!) Here are a few that I like to weave into the conversation.

  • What is your hidden talent?
  • What is the most imaginative thing you have done as an adult?
  • What’s on your bucket/life list?
  • What is the most rewarding risk you have ever taken?

Of course, you can’t just blurt out the question. You have to use it as the basis for your sharing. I often talk about my work as an innovation coach and consultant as equipping others to take risks in their work, organizations, and businesses to create profitable change. For me that is what innovation is all about. But risk-taking isn’t just work-related, it is life-related. So if I want someone to know who I am at my core – a daring, ambitious, determined individual – I tell them about how I love to climb mountains. I share a short engaging story of my Mt Kilimanjaro summit as one of the most rewarding risks I’ve ever taken. And then, I invite them to tell me what has been the greatest risk they have triumphed. Every time I ask the question, I hear a different answer. And that is very cool.

Share something relevant about yourself that you want others to know. We are all multi-dimensional. If you crunch numbers for a living but are actually more passionate about your volunteer role tutoring under-served kids, then don’t spend all night talking about bookkeeping. Talk about what you feel is relevant to the contact and show the side of you that will contribute to a purposeful relationship.

Have a good exit strategy. Be strategic, if you want to continue the conversation. Be authentic, if you don’t. Either way, be polite and only create expectations if you plan to follow through. There is a funny episode of Friends where Chandler dates Rachel’s boss, Joanna. He ends the first date by saying, “This has been great. We should do it again sometime.” He has no intention of calling or continuing any kind of relationship with Joanna but he can’t help himself from saying these words. What ensues is great comedy for a television show but mismanaged expectations is no joke in real life.

Tailor your follow up. Consider the personality of your contact to determine the right medium for follow-up. If you have learned a bit about your new contact then you might know that s/he is a talker and likes to engage with people verbally. The phone should be your medium of choice. Then again, perhaps s/he was more introspective and thoughtful when you chatted. Email would allow this person to craft their response to you without timeline or pressure.

*Do invite people to join you on your social networks but be sure to reciprocate.

There should be no generic communication. In your phone chat, email, or message, refer to something unique from your original conversation to ensure that you re-establish that connection. For example: “It was great to connect with you the other day. I loved hearing about your daughter’s amusing Halloween adventures. I hope she has a great time trick-or-treating this year!”

Connect to the possibility. As part of your follow-up, be sure to suggest a simple next step related to the “possibility” (from the 4Ps) you discovered through conversation.  Don’t offer too many options and don’t complicate your follow-up with additional ideas or explanations. Stay focused.

Nurture the relationship. It’s like anything else, if you tend to it, it will grow. The more you create opportunities to get to know this contact, the more they will learn about you. Nurturing the relationship is a organic, evolving continuation of that original conversation.


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