-Keypoints from AscendNAAMBA (National Associate of Asian MBAs) Event on Wednesday, February 19, 2014.
-Marcia Ballinger is the author of The 20-Minute Networking Meeting: How Little Meetings Can Lead To Your Next Big Job, and member of KeyStone, an executive consulting firm in Minneapolis.
Still having a sluggish winter? Then, take a look at your local organizations and join them for an event. Get out of your comfort zone and peel yourself away from your winter television show. You’re more likely to feel inspired surrounded by other self-starters. Their determination to reach a goal or start their company is contagious. After many below zero days and winter storms these individuals have become my sun lamp. I needed to hit the pause button after my planned winter break.
Never been to a networking event? Let me share my experiences from the last events. I first heard of the National Association of Asian MBAs (NAAMBA) through a mutual friend. She pointed me to the group after a long excited speech about my latest project. I decided to try another event after one the other meetings I attended fell short of my expectations. I was looking to expand my network but only met individuals who were looking to turn me into their customer. In other words, their name tag should have read, “I don’t care who you are. I’m here to sell.” I was seeking knowledge and advice. I wanted to know other individuals in start-ups or who were in the process of creating their own start-up. I was seeking people who would look at me as more than a phone call to buy their next product. Just like other entrepreneurs, such as Tim Ferris, I don’t believe in hard selling. Pressure selling is a turn-off to most people. I can’t think anyone who had a good experience with the “car salesman” technique. It’s the very reason some people run away from “business” personalities. I realized I had to learn from those experiences and seek out individuals with the same entrepreneurial mindset.
I decided on a no-pressure networking event with the NAAMBA members. What better way to get into the holiday spirit than going to a party. My first encounter with the group was going to be at their Christmas Party. A few friends of mine decided to join me. We walked into the upscale bar scene and saw a classy event complete with high tables and hor d’oeuvres. Since this was an event to support the networking of Asian business professionals most of the tables were filled with Asian faces but don’t worry if you end up at one of their events and you’re not Asian. They greeted everybody there equally.
The feeling in the atmosphere of this group was different from other networking events I attended. This was also one of the most populated networking events I had attended. I had to admit, the beginning was awkward. It took me a little while to move from the comfort of the first table of people. I didn’t know any of the other people at the party. Many of them were accustomed to exchanging business cards and asking other person what they did for a living. They were all busy bees walking from table to table to greet other new faces. The board members were friendly and made it a point to talk to as many people as they could. They welcomed everybody that joined the party.
After watching a few people exchanging contact information I made a break for it. I to admit it. I’m not comfortable with talking about myself and when I get nervous I tend to do just that - talk on and on about my work to fill in the empty gaps of conversation. Luckily, my subconscious had no ulterior motive to sell like a car salesman but someone might have mistaken my babbling tendencies for just that. As the night went on I found it was a little too easy to talk about myself. I had to rein myself in and remember to invite other people into the conversation. I tried to remember the advice of other entrepreneurs who preached about not being “self-absorbed”. I was there to connect and had to overcome a human tendency. The rest of the networkers were forgiving because we shared a common goal. Everyone there understood the importance of networking in business. It was the point of their group.
In about ten minutes I learned a few things. I stopped myself and remembered why I was there. I tried to connect with people outside of my own circle. Most of importantly, I was genuinely interested in learning about the other individuals at the party. I quickly learned that many of them have the same goals in mind - success in their lives and businesses. So take a breath when you network, and remember to bring your business cards. Everybody was so busy buzzing around the room at the party that we all ran out of them by the end of the evening. A good sign but was it effective? One of my friends gave me the answer on the drive home. They helped remind me that this gathering was meant to be a party not a speed round of dating. Their comment got me thinking. How could I improve my networking skills, even if I was at a party?
The answer arrived when their next event was announced. The same group decided to have a guest speaker who helped professionals on networking and finding ways to achieve success in their careers. Something I learned I could improve upon from the last party. They invited author and executive consultant at Keystone Search in Minneapolis, Marcia Ballinger, to speak to the group. She wrote the book, The 20-Minute Networking Meeting: How Little Meetings Can Lead To Your Next Big Job. Her perspective and experience came from sitting on the other side of the desk, and meeting with business professionals who were looking to improve their current positions and skills. She was ready to share her inside tips with us on things to do and avoid when networking. In her eight years plus she’s worked with numerous professionals and executives. The best part was she was there to share, not sell her book.
Following her own practices, she took off her watch and set it on the table to keep track of her speaking minutes. She believes time is important and often limited. She didn’t waste our time by filling us with book teasers, like you’ll have to read my book to figure out the rest. She shared valuable information and experience we could take with us and apply after she left. She wrote the book because she had seen too many meetings fail. She gave us tips to succeed in our business ventures. She started off by saying that 10% of all meetings go well.
We all know that resumes and ideas are pitched into the discard pile every day. So what separates the ones who are put into the other pile and placed in the keep pile? According to Marcia, you would be surprised by how things such as being polite and aware of the other person’s time goes a long way. She said we were more likely to go into the keep pile just by saying thank you more than one time to the other person for holding the meeting with us. She said to “honor the gift of time” when you meet with the other person because most people lead busy lives.
She had a valid point when she listed three reasons why people agree to network or meet with you. I looked around the room and realized they applied to every person there. We all, “hoped to learn new things, expand our network, and create an evangelist - someone who does something when you’re not there”. Everybody in the room clicked the join button on the Facebook event for at least one of those reasons.
She returned to the point about honoring the gift of time. In her experience, working with various people at different stages in her life she said a great majority of her meetings ended with them forgetting to thank her. She said we would fall into the rare percentage of individuals that had a successful meeting if we said, “Thank You” at least three times. Say it when you first greet the other person, before you begin your meeting and when you leave. Your greeting with the other person should be done in the first few minutes of walking through their door. Having a successful meeting doesn’t stop there. Let’s take a look at what she believes a successful meeting would look like from the other side of the desk.
Here’s what you do when you have 20 minutes to honor the value of someone else’s time:
- Say thank you at least 3 times.
- Reiterate your connection to the person no matter how “weak” it might be. She said to connect on them based on the person you have in common, the event you met, or even the fact that you’re a woman/man in business. Even a “weak” connection is better than nothing.
- Finally, set the agenda. You called the meeting, so set the agenda for them even if you forwarded them a copy.
- Thank them again.
- Tell them about yourself in a few sentences.
- Bulk of the meeting is discussion. This takes preparation. Read their website and social media pages. Show interest in them.
- Wrap-up. Ask questions.
- Thank them before you leave.
- Send a follow-up within 48 hours. Marcia said that “under 5% ever circle back” to her - remember to follow-up.
As Marcia ended, she touched on a few more points that focused on networking and could be applied in any situation. She told our group to remember not to make our connection too narrow or specific when we’re meeting with someone. For example, don’t walk into her office or tell the person you are looking to make a connection with people who graduated from a certain school in an area of study that only a small percentage that graduates choose. In other words, don’t tell someone you just met that you only want to work with someone who can perform brain surgery on Mondays. Leading with a statement like that may feel like a snub or leave no room for them to relate to you. Introduce yourself, tell them what you do and leave room for common ground. Someone who cannot relate to you or your interests will most likely put at the bottom of their network, if they don’t forget you on the way out. She said another mistake networkers made was not preparing for discussion part of their meeting. She said meetings took preparation and some research on our part.
According to her advice at least 5 questions should be prepared for the other person that involve a little research. That part of our 20 minute networking meeting was going take about 12-15 minutes. She said to ask questions that are tailored for the other person. Don’t ask them about the weather or what they do? “Never ask them question you can learn on your own”. One example is showing you reviewed their resume. Point to something in their career that looks interesting and ask if this path is typical. The point is to use statements about them and then follow with a question. This shows interest in their work. Having no questions shows little interest in the other person.
Sometimes questions can help you wrap-up the meeting. Another important question to end on is asking them for a reference. Marcia said that many professionals who came to her often forget to do this. This is part of the networking process. The worst thing they can do is not give you an answer. Asking them who else they might know that you might be able to network with wouldn’t hurt. Don’t just end on asking them for something. Before your final “Thank you” remember to offer to help them. Offer your help or ask them how you can help them. Better yet, leave them with a small item they would find unique. Remember, don’t make it a bribe, just make it memorable. You’re not asking them to vote for you or sign a multi-million dollar deal. Don’t bring a bribe. Bring something that lets them know you read their website. I once interviewed a writer who was given a costume for one of his dachshunds for speaking at an event. It was their way of thanking him and letting them know they appreciated him taking time to share. He posted the pictures all over his Facebook page. Be appropriate but let them know you take an interest in their life.
Our guest speaker ended by giving us a few key examples on how to get a meeting. She said the majority of communication these days is through email but be mindful of the time. Have a good and to the point subject line and be brief if you choose to request a meeting this way. How do you put this into your email? Start by saying, “I was referred to you by...”, or “I notice from your bio...” Say something about their education or company. She said that personal connections were most likely to get you a meeting, so start attending networking events or going to places where you will most likely meet the people who have your dream job.
When our time with Marcia ended I stopped furiously typing notes and watched her pick-up her watch. Even in a casual environment she valued our time. She reminded our group to bring a pen or folio to our next meeting. She said she often gave the other person a name she thought would help them or a reference but they didn’t write it down. Another sign they were prepared or interested in what she had to say. She thanked our group and posed for a few pictures with those who won a few copies of her book in the group drawing. Afterward, she left quietly and we took a break because our night wasn’t over. We were just getting started.
We were going to put her advice into practice. Suddenly, the room turned into a business networker’s versions of speed dating. We were set on a timer and given a few minutes to introduce ourselves as one side of the table moved down the line. Each time we stopped were given a new topic to speak about an introduced to a new face. Our voices echoed off the walls. I was introduced to people in information technology, someone building a start-up, and few other faces I didn’t know from the Christmas Party. We spoke about our new projects, who we were, and something we liked to do outside of work. When the speed networking rounds were over I had a few more business cards and felt a lot better going to networking events. I received advice and tips from a profession who works with executive clients and I had the opportunity to apply what I learned. I remembered to stop babbling and ask the other person what they did and what they working on. The best part about attending another event with the same group is getting to know the people you met the first time so it doesn’t feel like speed dating. As I drove home that evening, the buzz of meeting new people was still there. I always feel energized when I meet other people working on their own creative projects or start-ups. The sound of getting a new connection in my social media was also a good feeling. There are individuals out there willing to network and connect you just have to keep putting yourself out there.
- Mahieu Spaid writer and artist at mahieustudios.com
For more information about National Association of Asian MBAs (NAAMBA) visit their Facebook page (click here).
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