Networking Since Age Five

When I was in nursery school at age five, my teacher foretold my future when she wrote on my report card that, 

"Jeff stands out in nursery school as an especially likable little boy who is very popular with the children."

Born to Network

I love to network and connect with marketing people even before the Internet was born. Being able to get back in touch with someone from my past that I spent a few moments, hours or days with can be valuable and very pleasurable. It takes quite a bit of work but like many things, I have found a few techniques that have proved useful and I would like to share them. None of these ideas are radical or brilliant but they do require a modicum of discipline and focus. They also require a commitment to giving back in gratitude for the good fortunes in my own life so if you network and get some benefits, remember to always pay it forward. 

Elkwood School Report Card 1959

Sharing her Lytte

ASK QUESTIONS – The Terri Gross approach
Terri Gross, interviewer extraordinaire

When I meet a new acquaintance I am interested in understanding their background, their interests and most importantly their path to their current position. I ask a lot of questions. I wonder what Terri Gross from NPR’s Fresh Air would ask if she was sitting with this person. Terri is one of the great interviewers and her questions are often more intriguing then the responses. 

I am curious and I want to know more about them since it will help me understand how I might help them or someday, they might help me. How did they get to their current job? Why do they work at that particular company? Who do we know in common? What skills and expertise do they have or exists in their network that could be helpful to me, my company or my own network? Where did they go to school? What non-profit or extracurricular activities are they interested in. Where is their spouse working?

Information is enormously valuable yet most of us don’t spend enough time in the present moment exploring our commonality during initial meetings. We are all in such a rush and I admit I get caught up in the ebb and flow too. But each encounter with someone you meet is a lost opportunity not to ask these questions and to find out all that you can about your new contact.  Most of us just jump right into our business and ignore the human being in front of us. Focus on the present moment, the person right in front of you and ask lots of questions.

IMMEDIATELY RECORD THE DATA – The vitamin approach

Do this once a day
Before the Internet, Outlook and Linkedin, it was a manual system of Rolodex cards or random pieces of paper to keep in touch. Today, it is so much easier with everyone you have ever met within a few keystrokes away or a phone call.  My method is simple and I call it the vitamin approach. I try and record one person a day that I have met. That is five people per week or 250 people per year. I’m pretty diligent about this although I will admit that sometimes I need to catch up on the weekends. I include in the Outlook contacts free form area a few searchable terms about their personal lives, their spouse or other things I may want to be able to find in the future. This is how I have accumulated data and information on 5,341 people I have connected with over the last 20 years. Now, Linkedin allows me to fine tune those connections and stay in touch since anyone in the system keeps their information up to date. But every day, update your contacts with the person you just met while they are fresh in your mind.

HELP SOMEONE ELSE – What can I do for you?

Lending a hand 
Finally, the third and most important tip relates to what I do with all of this information. For me, I want to be able to reconnect to help others. It is sort of like electronic mission work where someone I know might be able to help another person in my sphere. I’m not wholly selfish in doing this because I believe that if I can put another good energy out in the world, some of this help will show up for my daughters and loved ones. Of course it feels good to help and assist but I feel a sense of obligation to pay back some of the good fortune that has come my way in life and career.
When I get random opportunities to be helpful, I ask only one thing in return and that is to pay it forward. Help someone else, link them with one of your connections and find a way to help someone else in need of assistance. 

As I am finishing up this post while sitting at the airport in Raleigh, a young woman with a small baby comes over to me.

“Jeff, it’s me Jody”

Jody and I worked together almost 10 years ago. She worked at French/West/Vaughn the PR firm while I was EVP Marketing at GoodMark Foods. We live in the same part of North Raleigh and both work in marketing yet haven’t bumped into each other in 10 years although she has seen my blogs and posts through Linkedin. She updated me on the beautiful little bundle named Lily who is snuggling against Jody. We catch up on mutual friends and connections and we share ten minutes before boarding the plane. It isn’t easy to stay connected with your entire network yet Jody and I got to share a re-connection that was timely given the topic of this blog.

Networking works. Stay connected. Trust the universe.

Labels: , , , ,