Networking is a necessary and often derided skill. To most, its rules are ambiguous and the concept overwhelming. In their fifth book, coauthors Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon explain the rules of the game.
I met with Lynne Waymon last week to discuss networking and her new book, “Make Your Contacts Count”. She told me a little about her background through an anecdote. Her story was short and sweet, but it gave me the basics of who she was. It highlighted her tenacity, adaptability and knowledge in the areas of training and group dynamics. After all, she was preparing to facilitate a training session later that afternoon for another association in town.
As she explained, “Your job is to teach people about who you are, what you need and what you have to give.” The best way to explain all of those things is through a story. You need to be able to tell your story at a moment’s notice, and it should demonstrate something about your character and competency straight away.
That’s when she turned the tables on me by asking for my story. I told her that I didn’t have anything prepared. I wasn’t ready. I was coming to interview her, not the other way around. With a gentle smile and a lilt of her head, she quickly put me at ease. She said, “That’s where the rules of engagement come into play. By following a few simple steps, you can easily move past your intimidation of talking to a stranger.”
Most casual conversations revolve around three basic questions, or moments as Baber and Waymon describe them. There will be a name exchange, “Hi, I’m Dave.” Someone will ask, “What do you do?—I’m a chemist.”, and then finally you’ll get the inevitable, “How are you today?—Fine.” Just as quickly as the conversation was initiated, it is over without a real connection.
The key to initiating a connection is to be ready to answer these questions in a meaningful way. “A good story gives your contact a vivid picture of what you do,” said Waymon. “It doesn’t have to be long, but it should give insight to your character and your competency.”
To compose your story, think back to your childhood. Children’s stories have four basic parts:
- The beginning: Once upon a time…
- The set-up: suddenly…
- The turn-around: luckily…
- The ending: …happily ever after.
For your story, think of a key moment in your life when you saved the day, served a customer, demonstrated commitment, or solved a tricky problem. These are the kinds of stories that will demonstrate your character and competence, and that is what will make you interesting to others.
According to Waymon, most people know about 250 people. However, few people have cultivated their contacts into the networks that they need to succeed. To help you, your contacts must trust you and know of your abilities, success stories and your challenges. Furthermore, you must know theirs. You have to realize that your network is an investment of your time and of yourself. It is really about getting to know people.
Among the other topics in the book, Baber and Waymon discuss the characteristics of the ideal network, conversation do’s and don’ts, stages of relationships, and the types of contacts.
This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.