By Brickson Diamond
AABLI Faculty Member
Chief Operating Officer, The Executive Leadership Council
Mastering the art of networking is serious business. During our AABLI Board Leadership Program (BLP) exercises and discussion, there is not enough time to dig deeply into the nuances of networking, engrossed as we are in expanding our universe of relationships, advancing the causes about which we are passionate and elevating the work of the organizations that express our greatest passions. In this brief entry I will touch on all of these more meaningfully than time allows during our session. This should serve both as a great preview for those considering an AABLI Board Leadership Program and as a moment of greater reflection for our alumni.
Personal interaction with others through networking can vary depending on your personality type. An extrovert’s goal at an event may be to talk to as many people as possible. An introvert’s may be to get in and get out with as little superficial engagement as possible. I argue that the goal, not our personality types, should determine the behavior.
Whether it be a work, social or board event, your goal has a lot to do with how you network.
When I enter a room at a work function, I keep in mind the loose ends I can tie down over a cocktail or piece of shrimp. Loose ends have a way of fraying when one is sitting around a projector and laptops. Shrimp and drinks, on the other hand, can get the job done.
In a social context, let’s say I need more friends to fill my rare moments of free time. Why not interview friends at a party? I am drawn to people with biting wit. Seeking out the wittiest person in the room can make the worst of social events more fun.
A board event is a treasure trove of opportunity for achieving goals. Has the treasurer of the board been advancing ideas I don’t understand? Or perhaps I’m not aligned with these ideas? Over a cocktail and away from the spreadsheets, I can engage in a more philosophical discussion and perhaps make more progress.
Each environment and each type of exchange requires a unique range of tactics. This useful formula, however, unites nearly every tactic:
At a work event, it can be very useful to decide which topics can be advanced and which should stay in the office. Thinking about who might be in the room and having a ready store of topics can be preparation enough. You want the interactions to be natural. Do not go in with a flip pad or a typed-up agenda. You are seeking to build alliances and closer ties. Making these social connections should help you get things done faster back in the office.
In a social setting, the idea of preparing may seem draconian. Shouldn’t my flow just be natural? Sorry, but no; not if you have very specific objectives. For both the introvert and the extrovert, having a plan can transform the nature of one’s interactions. Understand what you want from these encounters. If a friend is what you seek, prepare a mental checklist of the characteristics most important in a friend. As you move through the room, check them off. This should make for a much more efficient and interesting use of your time.
There may not be another context in which preparation is more important than in a board-related event. Potential donors often are present. Think ahead: Which team members do you want them to meet? Which stories do you want them to hear? What experiences do you want them to have? What impression do you want them to take with them once they leave the room?
Too soon to make the “ask?” After all, we just got to the social, work or board event. Making the “ask” must be a part of your preparation. Still, there are degrees of the “ask.” In my career in marketing asset management services, I was taught that the point of the first meeting is to get the second meeting and the point of that meeting is to get the third. By the third meeting you have a much better sense of what is important to the person whom you are asking for a work decision, a friendship connection or a donation. The link between that person’s priorities, personality and passions, respectively, is a key to getting to his or her “yes.” In another section of the AABLI BLP, we talk about the “yes” as someone’s willingness to give. This give can be of time, talent or treasure. After all, aren’t these the currencies of all human interaction?
Nothing works if you do not leave people feeling good. Whether it is a handwritten note, a LinkedIn request or a Twitter follow, saying “it was nice to meet you and I appreciate your ‘yes’ “ is essential. No matter your generation or mode of operation, stewardship is the way you express your appreciation and ensure that you get the desired return on your investment.
Now it is time for you to get up from your computer and do the work. Think about the context in which you plan to function differently as a networker. Is it a work, social or board context? How can you get to a better “yes” using the ideas in this piece?
You can leverage this advice to gain faster results in the work place, a meaningful set of new friendships or larger donations to that nonprofit board you joined after completing your AABLI BLP session. Having a clear objective, using the tactics of preparing, asking and stewarding and getting into the conversation one person at a time can help you network like a boss. Your boss, your existing friends and your foundation’s income statement are counting on you.
This blog is not written by aabli.org or The African American Board Leadership Institute. The author is solely responsible for the content.