How to be remarkable at networking when you’re awkward as f*ck.
Guest Series Bloggger : Nick Wolny
“I’ll have an Old-Fashioned, please.”
There are name tags everywhere. And hands with pocket-sized cards in them. And desperate faces attached to those arms and hands.
This particular networking event feels like a high school dance mixed with the Hunger Games. It’s an awkward mingling of desperate strangers beneath a fog of strategy and death.
I meet Martin. He goes to every networking event he can find. He dishes out business cards by the dozen, promotes his side hustle, and has a vicegrip handshake that I’m pretty sure sprained my thumb.
Martin hustles, but I can tell he’s tired. His hustle isn’t taking him anywhere and he can’t quite figure out why.
Martin is “me-centric”. He’s networking to grow his Facebook likes and Instagram likes and build his Rolodex until it looks like something from an episode of Hoarders. It’s all about him.
We chat fitness for a bit and I give him a referral – my friend Marissa. She wouldn’t be caught dead at a networking event, yet her business is bursting at the seams because she creates massive value each time she works with someone. Marissa knows how to get in and deliver badass results after she connects with someone, and as a result she has remarkable professional relationships that cement her career.
Marissa is “you-centric”. She’s all about you. “What do you want”, “What do you need”, “What do you want that you didn’t know you wanted?” She then gives that to you with a kick to the face and a cherry on top. She’s an introvert and she charges a premium. Societal norms indicate she should have bombed out long ago, but instead she’s flourishes.
Let’s dig in and figure out why.
What kind of networking is actually fun and produces results?
Just like whiskey, not all networking is equally delicious or effective. In this post I will focus on three introvert-charged approaches to connection that are both vulnerable and effective.
The common theme is each approach will get your listener excited to connect with you, hire you, recommend you, buy you a drink, or all of the above. You don’t need to be a social butterfly to be remarkable and establish career-making relationships. You do need to capitalize on one interaction and make it memorable. Let’s begin.
1. Share your story. But make it about them.
In a social media-saturated world, everyone checks in everywhere and talks about everything. People crave vulnerability and connection. People also have a lower attention span than ever, and trente sweetened iced coffees aren’t helping. To capture people’s hearts and minds you must strike a delicate balance.
I want you to try on this formula: “I -> We -> You”. (Not ‘U+Me=Us’. That’s the song of my childhood by fake boy band 2Gether.)
Your sharing begins with yourself. It pivots to being a “we” conversation that feels inclusive. And then finishes with an anecdote.
Say hello, get related, crack open their hearts with a memorable anecdote, and then GTFO.
“But how do I win hearts at the drop of a hat?!”
Keep three to five personal anecdotes in your back pocket. When you get to the ‘about me’ small talk, make it about them.
I do this because, as an introvert and a former classical musician, I confess I practice everything. (Once I was so nervous during a speech high school that when I opened my mouth to start I threw up. So I feel it’s in everyone’s best interest that I have these icebreakers down.)
This is not rehearsing all of your human interactions. (That’s called Reality TV.) Crispy small talk gets the ball rolling for deeper, more authentic sharing on both sides.
“I, We, You” has a simple flow and it’s subtle. Here are three anecdotes from my life that are actually about your life:
“I was 16, I weighed 270 pounds, and JC Penney didn’t have my waist size in pants anymore. Self-shaming alert! It was time for a change. I began going to the local high school track and walking laps. We can all agree that fat guys walking are way more inspirational than fat guys eating sandwiches. When you risk looking bad and putting yourself out there, you gain the courage to keep going and achieve your goal.”
“I went to music school. Everyone loves music. I got into Juilliard and a top grad school. I then realized what I actually loved and spent my whole life cultivating was people telling me I was amazing and stroking my ego. My life felt really empty. People love being told they’re awesome, and that sometimes distracts us from our true goals (::cough:: social media ::cough::). It becomes addictive. You feel douche-y when you discover something inauthentic about yourself. You also get clear on what you really want, and seeing as how you’ll never be younger, it’s a great time to do that work and invest in you.”
“I knew I could be a leader, but teaching yoga in a maximum-security prison scared the fuck out of me. Will they think yoga is weird? Will they yell ‘fag’ at me?! Can I as a gay man cause community amongst super-macho inmates? Doubts creep into our mind when we’re up to something great. Two years later, one of the inmates who had been in that class was released, sought me out, came to class at the studio, and told me his life changed after that experience. Whoa. When you’re scared shitless, you’re probably on the right track. You take that experience into all the other areas of your life.”
Your turn – tell me about yourself. Go on, I read every comment and email.
2. Create Memorable Gifts.
Speaking of prison, let’s go back to the networking event.
After showing me NINE photos of her cats, a sloshed woman gives me her business card. She pushes it at me, really. “It’s foil-printed,” she slurs. “Also, I do lifestyle design, you should really talk to me.”
My fillings ache. I order another old-fashioned.
I want to grab this woman by the shoulders, shake her and scream “To start a remarkable relationship, never lead with your contact info - get theirs instead!” Did you just an order of 200 luxe square-shaped cards from moo.com? I don’t f*cking care. Always get their contact info. Now you can start the relationship off with a remarkable step.
Recently, a client introduced me to a reporter for the Houston Chronicle who wanted to do a small piece on “3 yoga poses to do at your desk”. We hit it off and arranged a phone call, and I did a simple 20-minute phone interview, explaining the poses and benefits.
I was disoriented as I tried to explain neck release over the phone and ensure she was getting all the lefts and rights correct. I mentioned photos would make this article pop. As the call finished I got her email address.
I could have ended there and gone on with my day. But I knew this was an opportunity to make a really strong first impression with someone in media. So in the spirit of getting up and moving around at the workplace, I sent her this:
I wish I could say sending someone a trampoline as an office gift was my original idea. I stole this from that Will and Grace episode where Harry Connick Jr. sends one to Debra Messing after the first date, choosing it over flowers because “they’re not as much fun to jump on”. I don’t remember what else happened in the episode. I do remember how Grace’s giddiness made me feel. I also remember really wanting Harry Connick Jr. to send ME a trampoline. And then sleep with me. Or just sleep with me period.
But enough about my teenage fantasies. The reporter was so tickled by this gift she asked if I could come in later that week and be the model for the poses in the article. 48 hours later I was demonstrating pigeon pose in a chair.
The article ran the following week, and I forever have this link to me being interviewed and pictured in a large publication. This greatly increased my credibility as a local yoga expert (and sitting expert) and cemented my relationship with the Chronicle as their go-to for future health and wellness articles.
I will note that this gift wasn’t the only factor to getting the gig - I ensured I could pitch under pressure (which we’ll hit in part 4 of this series). I’ve received multiple leads and new clients since this article printed.
Here’s your homework: choose someone you have a relationship with for whom a thoughtful or strategic gift would blow their mind. Give them that. Then tell me how it goes.
3. Don’t be their biggest fan. Be their best fan.
“So, you coach people to make more money? Sounds like you’re an asshole.”
The bar talk is getting more colorful and we’ve made some new friends. Or maybe let’s say acquaintances. Now let’s blow their shit up.
On the surface, people want those Facebook and Instagram likes. Everyone loves instantaneous validation. But under the surface, what we really want to know is whether our efforts make a difference in people’s lives. And how. Very few people are doing this within their network, and therein lies the opportunity to be memorable.
Practice what your new friends are preaching. Then tell them about it.
Document your results along the way and then show them.
Or you can even respond to someone’s question or post with something that adds massive value. Let’s turn small talk into big talk.
Example: This response on Quora I did last year, which got a ton of buzz. I don’t get much out of social media commentary, but I do like reading comments for insight, which is why I enjoy Quora.
I found a question I could add value to. I sat down, and took the time to craft a thoughtful response that would add massive value. I myself was craving this, and clearly other people were craving it too.
My favorite thing to do is add massive value to others. This step is really fun.
Not all of your value adds will pan out into opportunities. Similar to a stock portfolio, you’ll have winners and dead-ends.
What will happen is your value swords will get sharper, you’ll help more people, and you’ll make a bigger impact than ever before. Don’t set a goal to be viral; set a goal to be so remarkable and memorable that the difference you make cannot go unnoticed.
Your turn. Who can you help this week that qualifies you as a fantastic fanatic, rather than a f%$#-ing annoying fangirl? Help people. Report back.
I’m Uber-ing home now, that’s enough face time (and whiskey) for one night.
Before I go, I have a free gift for you - my webinar “You Betta (Net)Work: 3 Methods To Nail Vulnerable-Yet-Effective Sharing” is all yours when you click here. Get a new approach to networking so bulletproof that not even four old-fashioneds can derail it. (I know because I’ve tested it in real time for you).
Let me know how it goes, I love hearing from you.
Nick Wolny helps health hustlers and artists make bank using effective, inspirational marketing. He lost 110 pounds, drinks whiskey, and combines his classical music background with persuasion techniques to get offers from organizations such as the Juilliard School, Newsweek, Carnegie Hall and Wanderlust. Basically he talked his way to the top. Now he coaches others to do the same. Visit him at www.six-figurefitness.com.