The Green Sheet Online Edition
June 22, 2009 • Issue 09:06:02
Raising the networking bar
A few weeks ago, we went to a hard rock concert to see one of Vanessa's favorite groups. I would have rather stuck my hand in a blender. However, there are those occasions where, for the benefit of those we care about and love, we suck it up, put on a smile and go.
This was a general admission concert, so everyone had to stand. The concert started at 7 p.m.; doors opened at 6 p.m. Vanessa said we would leave for the event between 4 and 4:30 p.m. so we could stand in line to get a great view.
Vanessa was excited. Over a period of 40 minutes, she tried on four outfits. Her hair was fixed perfectly. Makeup wasn't just makeup; it was now artwork. Like many guys, I was ready in seven minutes, and that included the shower. Nascar pit crews would have been proud.
Then I had a horrible flashback of my youth. Remember as a small child when you were going somewhere special, maybe to visit relatives you hadn't seen in a long time? Your mother told you to get dressed.
You put on your favorite jeans and shirt. You were waiting to leave; then your mom focused on you like a missile and said, "You're not wearing that, are you?" You knew it wasn't a question; it was really a statement.
My proud seven minutes of preparation came to a crashing halt by that same question, "You're not wearing that, are you?" Vanessa had me try on three shirts. Even my jeans weren't the ones she wanted me to wear. I thought, "Jeans are jeans." Nope.
Not when you're going to your wife's favorite group's concert. It was so reminiscent of my youth; the only thing missing was Vanessa licking her fingertips to put a cowlick down on top of my head.
We pulled up to the venue at 5:30 p.m. The line was 30 to 50 yards long. Vanessa yelled, "Stop the car!" My heart was in my throat. Did I just hit a pedestrian?
No. She threw me my ticket and instructed me to park the car. She was going to get in line in hopes of getting that great view.
Like so many men today, I didn't have a dime in my pocket. Parking was $10. So, I was off on a mission to find an ATM. Twenty minutes later, I parked the car and walked back to the venue. The line was now three city blocks long.
People around me were casually talking. I heard them say there were two warm-up bands. Vanessa's favorite group wouldn't be on until 10 p.m. It was barely 6 p.m; there was no hope of getting out of there before midnight.
Nevertheless, I knew this was important to Vanessa, so I kept a smile on my face and a positive attitude.
Finally, the doors opened, and we found a great spot where Vanessa could sit comfortably on the intersecting corner of a very stout railing. A pub table was nearby, and one of the five bars was 15 feet away.
It grew crowded. I began talking to a couple next to us. They had been in business a year and were interested in credit card processing. They wanted me to follow up with them. Twenty minutes later, the concert started. In less than three seconds, the sound level went from murmurs to the roar of an F-18 fighter jet with afterburners on.
Five to seven young women sat on the shoulders of men and frantically waved their arms, aiming to get the attention of the band members on stage.
And when they succeeded, they removed their tops. I began to think perhaps I had been too harsh about attending this concert.
Later I made some observations. Over 65 percent of the attendees were male; I'm male. Over 98 percent were wearing black; I was wearing black.
Almost everyone was Caucasian; I'm white. Ninety five percent were between the ages of 21 and 27; uh, oh, it had been quite a while since I'd outgrown the twenty-something demographic
However, age, skin color and gender played no role in my being accepted. When you are at an event where the focus is external - on the speaker or entertainment - your most important attributes are what you wear and your attitude.
Whether the event is a play, opera, religious service, movie or concert; you fit in when you mirror what the other participants wear. A positive attitude allows you to communicate more effectively, but only after you have been initially accepted.
The majority of us attend events such as annual dinners, banquets, after-hours socials and silent auctions. These gatherings typically set aside time for people to interact in an environment where their focus is on the event itself as well as on other attendees.
Let's say you are at the annual dinner gala for your favorite charity. You meet someone for the first time. Here's how the dialog might go:
Jon: "Hi! My name is Jon. I wanted to introduce myself to you."
Steve: "Pleasure, Jon. My name is Steve."
Jon: "Steve, is this your first time at this event?"
Steve: "Yes it is."
Jon: "What part of town do you live in?"
Steve: "I live in Anywhere, just outside of Nowhere."
Jon: "Interesting. How was the traffic coming in? I understand the road construction is horrible.
Steve: "It wasn't too bad. We left the house early so we wouldn't be late."
It is nothing more than mediocre conversation about the weather, traffic and pet stories seasoned with banality. What if you could raise the bar?
Let's try this one more time.
You are going to the annual dinner gala for your favorite charity. This time you call the event coordinator. You ask, "What is the table number where I'll be seated?" You are told number three. Your next question is, "Who is also seated at that table?"
Using me as the example, you are told Jon Perry. You inquire about Jon's company name and maybe ask for a telephone number. Then, opening your favorite search engine, you type in "Jon Perry" and "Merchant Services."
In three milliseconds it retrieves enough information for you to look like a networking wizard at the gala. Here's how the conversation might go. You are Bill.
Bill: "Jon, pleasure to meet you. My name is Bill. I read your article in The Green Sheet about how you started your business." (My name, associated with The Green Sheet article was number seven on the search engine result.)
Bill: "Yes. I understand you speak about business processes and social media. Those are so vitally important to businesses today, especially with the economy."
Bill: "I don't think it is a coincidence that we are seated together this evening. You see, I'm a small-business consultant. You have customers who are in my sweet spot. I wanted to see if there was something we could do together; something mutually rewarding."
By taking a few minutes to find out who will be at an event and doing a simple Internet search, you can raise the networking bar 10 notches.
Now, instead of trite conversation about the weather or traffic, you can exhibit a sincere interest in a fellow
attendee and guide the conversation to something that may be mutually advantageous. What could have taken three, four or more networking meetings, you now have in one. Instead of passing the time with useless banter, you have begun building deeper relationships.
If between 50 and 100 people are attending an event, it is not feasible to research all or even many of the participants. This doesn't mean you should leave networking to chance.
Rather, as you meet new people, ask them, By any chance are you on LinkedIn or Plaxo? For those who answer affirmatively, write "L" on their business cards for LinkedIn and "P" for Plaxo.
The next day, send bulk invitations to those you met through your LinkedIn and Plaxo accounts. Your message might read as follows: What a terrific annual gala last night. I think everyone was delighted with the money raised by XYZ nonprofit. It was a pleasure meeting you.
I am sending you this e-mail so that our networks may mutually connect. I hope you will join my network.
Now, no matter where these new contacts move, and no matter what new jobs they may aspire to, you will always have their contact information.
We'd like for you to try these techniques. After you do, please post to us at Street Smarts on GS Online's MLS Forum.
Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang are the owners of 888QuikRate.com, an ISO based in Ft. Worth, Texas, that was named Small Business of the Year by the local newspaper, The Star Telegram. For more information, tweet them at http://twitter.com/dfwcard, comment on their blog at http://merchantservices.cc or visit their profile at http://linkedin com/in/jonperry or http://linkedin.com/in/vanessalang Alternatively, you can contact Jon and Vanessa by phone at 817-857-3557 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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