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The Four Stages of Networking

I am an “Ambassador” with the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. That’s a fancy title for a volunteer. I also serve on the Chamber’s Education Committee. Most importantly, I host their weekly radio show, The Voice of Manhattan Business. Those are my credentials. Here’s how I use them:

Our topic is networking. Networking is not exchanging business cards. Networking is building relationships. You are not going to help someone unless you trust them. You are not going to trust someone until you get to know them. You can’t get to know them until you meet with them a few times and build a relationship. Enough said.

Obviously, I have no problems writing on public blogs knowing full well that someone may disagree with me and decide to attack me (verbally) for my views and opinions. I’m not shy to say what I mean because I mean what I say.

Trust me on this one, I also have no problem getting up in front of 500 people and speaking for an hour. I even enjoy it!

However, I would rather have root canal than attend an event where I do not know anyone and have to go over and introduce myself to strangers. I just hate it. I’m not alone. Johnny Carson was the same way.

So how is it that I have become a great networker? Well, there were three stages:

Stage Number One: I was on my own. I belonged to a different Chamber of Commerce. I went to an event, a breakfast event, and stood in the corner scared to death. I then realized that I was acting like a fool. So I set a goal for myself: I could not leave until I had collected five business cards. It took me almost until the end of the two-hour event.

The next time, the goal was 10 cards. Then 15. I still didn’t like introducing myself to strangers, but I got good at it. And, after a while, because basically most of the people who attended these monthly get-togethers were always the same people, it became less intimidating and some individuals even introduced me to others.

Then I joined the Manhattan Chamber and an interesting thing happened, which brings me to Stage Number Two:

At the first event I attended, before I was a volunteer, committee member or radio show host, someone came over to me and said, “I know you! You’re the LinkedIn guy. I see you all the time.”

Let me explain. I have two LinkedIn accounts with a total of over 35,000 first degree connections. If you are connected to me, and log into your account, chances are my picture will appear. It’s embarrassing, but it’s also a good icebreaker. I just laugh it off with a smile and a quick, “It’s nice to meet one of my 35,000 nearest and dearest friends!” Then the conversation begins.

So let’s do a quick recap: First, get over your fear of introducing yourself to strangers by setting achievable goals (the number of business cards you are going to collect at a given event). Second, utilize social media (I recommend LinkedIn — after all, we are professionals) to become known. And this brings us to the third step: volunteering.

When I go to a Manhattan Chamber of Commerce event I’m immediately recognized because I have a special badge identifying me as an “Ambassador.” People become curious and want to know what that means. I tell them and mention the radio show. I immediately invite them to be a guest, on the condition, and it’s the only one, that they have been a member for at least a year. It works. We chat. We e-mail and sometimes we meet. Which brings me to the fourth and final step to successful networking, establishing the relationship.

Getting to know the person. Having them be comfortable with you. Meeting at their office, or getting a cup of coffee. It’s not the venue, it’s the conversation. The idea is for them to recommend you to their contacts. Naturally, you have to reciprocate. And it’s simple to do. Just remember, when you meet someone at a networking event, if you are impressed and think you might be able to do business with them, never leave, never end the conversation, never say “Good bye,” without asking the most important question:

How can I help you?

Networking is all about reciprocity. If you are not willing to help someone, why would they want to network with you? And if, after you offer to help them, they do not respond in kind, why would you want to network with them?

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