This is International Networking Week. I know – I’m excited too!
But before you head out, help me recognize two world-class leaders for first making networking a thing, and then for making it a big thing.
On February 23, 1905, lawyer Paul J. Harris got a handful of friends together and founded Rotary, the world’s first civic club. Initially, his goal was just to grow his practice. But Harris soon realized this could be big because Rotary clubs caught on and, you might say, went viral. Now after over a century of international success, 33,000 Rotary clubs around the globe meet every week to network. And millions of people worldwide have benefited as Rotarians have delivered on Harris’s founding principle, “Service above self.”
Three-quarters of a century later, Dr. Ivan Misner also had a rather parochial idea that caught on around the world. What began simply as a plan to meet other professionals in order to grow his consulting business, rather quickly became Business Network International. Over 30 years, 7,500 worldwide chapters and millions of business referrals later, the BNI watchword is “Givers gain.”
After more than a half-century in the marketplace, more than 25 years as a Rotarian, and almost 20 years as a friend of BNI, here’s what I call the Networking Power Question: “What can I do to help you?”
There are two fundamental reasons Rotary and BNI caught on and have endured:
1. Networking is the professional version of the naturally gregarious nature of humans – we just like doing it;
2. Done right, the headwaters of networking is a commitment to what’s best for the person on the other side of the handshake. And after a century of organized practicing, we know the awesome power of putting others first.
Now, let’s get your International Networking Week off to a successful start by considering these networking thoughts (NT) that were inspired by my friend and networking goddess, Andrea Nierenberg.
NT #1. Make eye contact
Clearly, the cardinal sin of networking is not looking the person you’re talking to in the eye. Nierenberg says you should be able to remember the color of the person’s eyes that you just met.
NT #2. More ears – less mouth
This is an old adage, but it’s an essential NT for most of us. You’ll be more likely to impress someone by your interest in them rather than the other way around. “Tell me about your business,” and then, “Tell me more.”
NT #3. Smile – a lot!
Ladies are usually better at this than men. But the smile must be genuine, and is best accomplished in combination with NT #1. You don’t have to grin guys. Just turn up the corners of your mouth a little.
NT #4. Firm handshake
Men are usually better at this than the ladies, but don’t turn it into a wrestling match. And guys, when you’re shaking the hand of a lady, it’s the opposite of dancing: let the lady lead. Ladies, that means offer your hand first and give ’em a good squeeze. No one likes a dead fish/limp elbow handshake.
NT #5. Elevator speech
This is your very short and concise response when it’s your turn to talk. And unless one of you is actually getting on an elevator, be thinking about NT #2, and follow your little pitch with a sincere inquiry about them. “Now, tell me about you.”
NT #6. Successful networking benefits all parties
Enter any networking opportunity with NT #6 on your mind instead of “What’s in it for me?” and your networking success will increase exponentially. Remember the legendary Rotary and BNI mottos, “Service above self” and “Givers gain.”
Here’s a bonus NT from Misner: “It’s not netplay, it’s network.”
Make it your personal goal to become a professional networker. And then watch success come and play in your backyard.
Write this on a rock ... Face-to-face networking is the original social media.
Jim Blasingame is host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Small Business Advocate and author of the multi-award-winning book The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.