I’ve got networking on my mind because I’m doing a presentation to an alumni group this week on networking. But I’m feeling a little stuck. There’s so much good information out there about networking, I wonder what I could possibly say about it that sounds fresh (and helpful). Be authentic. Be thoughtful. Be inclusive. Blah, blah.
So let me take you back to a far-away land, many, many years ago (Texas, in the mid-1990s) when I won a book. A life-changing book, no less. As you might already know, I used to work in executive education, and we often had speakers who were trying to get onto our education circuit to come and speak at internal events. Sort of the test-drive-before-you-buy approach.
Bob Burg, did a lunchtime talk. (Honestly, I don’t know whether or not the organization hired him to speak at international education events… if they didn’t, I’m sorry, Mr. Burg. I enjoyed your talk.) OK, so he spoke at lunch to a group of about 30 people. At least, that’s what I recall. There was a drawing, and I won a copy of his book, “Endless Referrals.” The book came with a bookmark that had Bob’s trademark “10 Feel Good Questions” printed on it.
To this day, Bob Burg’s book is on my office bookshelf. The bookmark is pinned to a corner of my bulletin board. In all honesty, as I’m writing this, I’m asking myself if I really want to admit to you that I have those questions pinned to my office bulletin board. (here’s proof – see photo below) But if I ask myself why they’re still there, the answer is quite simple. Because his approach, and his questions, makes networking make sense to me, and I need to be reminded of this. Then – and now. Back then, I struggled with small talk, but his questions gave me a “purpose.” I often had to “make conversation” with others, like presidents and CEOs of major corporations, and I had never enjoyed the process. Until I heard Bob’s talk. A light bulb went off for me and it transformed my approach. I keep his questions visible to remind me of the essence of networking.
Here’s what these questions did for me:
- Reinforced, over and over again that networking isn’t about me (nor is it about you – relax!) It’s about learning about the other person. Now, I don’t think I have ever asked someone Question # 10: “What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you do business?” because it’s never felt authentic. (Bob is a salesperson, Stacey is not.) But I can tell you that I use variations of these questions every day. Every. Single. Day.
- Gave me a place to start. Just having a place to start a conversation was enough… one, maybe two questions to get the conversation started before logical follow-up questions would surface. I found I got better at that part too, when I realized that the best conversations were organic.
- Gave me permission to be curious. Instead of feeling like I had to know everything about everyone’s business (or career) ahead of time, i.e. that I had to be an “expert about them,” I could ask questions and learn. And a lot more fun too.
- Taught me that everyone loves to be heard. Show genuine interest, ask good questions and listen intently is good networking.
- Allowed me to be authentic. I don’t really care about the commercial bathroom supply/fixture industry, but I do find the story of how the company was founded, how it’s a third generation family business and the largest manufacturer in the world, of a certain type of commercial bathroom fixture, fascinating. To this day, I can’t use a public restroom without checking the brand of the fixtures.
It blows my mind, in a good way, that so much of my work now revolves helping others network. I absolutely love it. It’s fun AND fascinating. So later this week, when I’m talking about networking, I just might use a few of Bob’s questions to help get the conversation started. And I’ll probably demonstrate how to properly and gracefully end a networking conversation – because I like to offer super practical tips too.