The Networking Secret: What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us

05

February, 2018

Past
Is Not
Prophet

In the last week I had three friends ask me get how to get more from networking events. ‘Help me get the job I really want’, one asked. ‘Help me get the board of directors my shareholders deserve’, asked another. ‘Help me get a man I really need’, said the other. Yes, some of my friends use networking to pick-up partners.

Like many I shudder at the thought of networking, I usually leave the event early, feeling grubby and disappointed. But these three people were driven, they were on a mission and networking was important to them.

After a short chat I worked out all three had a similar approach when networking, they all said something like this:

[Open with an introduction to someone]

“Hi, my name is Charlotte/Charlie. You are?”

“Oh, Hi Julie/John, what is it you do?”

[Wait until Julie/John finishes talking. Nod occasionally. Then go for it!]

“So, I am a coach [for example] and I help high performing people perform better. You could probably do with some help yourself, we all could. Have you got a business card?”

[Swap cards]

“Thank you. I’ll drop you a line next week.”

[Move on]

This is an automatic transaction; if there is overlap in interests there is an exchange of business cards.

Connections not Contacts

Networking like this helps one feel busy and directed, never at a loose end. There is a buzz to the event. Lots of conversations and lots of business cards exchanged. But busyness can be misleading. Rearranging the deck chairs as the titanic sank would involve lots of activity but little purpose.

I argue if we want to be productive at networking events we must stop racing to compete to meet as many people as possible. Successful networking is not about making contacts but about making good connections.

What is a Good Connection?

Good connections exchange business cards and then pick-up the conversation after a networking event. Contacts exchange business cards and then disappear. 

We all have good connections. Have you ever had a good feeling as soon as you hear back from someone after a networking event? Perhaps you:

  • Smiled
  • Felt warm
  • Felt special

Good connections evoke these feelings. They are exciting and vivid in your mind.

I once sat in a café testing my latest software release when a man next to me leaned over and asked what I was doing with twenty phones on my table. Not an unreasonable query. I explained what I was doing and after a few minutes I discovered he was a member of the House of Lords, he said he would put me in touch with Richard Branson. Richard Branson! Two days after meeting him sure enough he sent me an email. I felt flattered to hear from a person holding such a lofty position but as is often the case with successful people he also made me feel special because of the way he spoke to me, how he connected to me.

How to Make Good Connections

A connection is not someone you meet through social media. They are not the drunken man who interrupts you and another to tell you about how exceptional they are. Nor do they look over your shoulder when a subject does not relate to them.

“I think I have spoken enough about me, what would you like to say about me?”

We share an instant affinity with good connections: you both back off when someone else tries to speak; you share common views on the event etc. These are good connections; these are what Dr Perpetua Neo calls ‘human connections’.

Interview with Dr Perpetua Neo

Unfortunately human connections are infrequently unearthed; I perhaps come across one a year. But all is not lost; instead of playing the people lottery we can purposefully create good connections. We do this by speaking to both the brain and the heart of our audience.

I first noticed the difference between good connections and contacts when I was networking to promote a new business. I would often accrue a pocket full of business cards. Whoever I emailed or called always came back to me. They would invite me to events, even private parties, meaning I ended up at some very strange affairs.

At the time I did not know why I was so successful but I knew was doing something right. After a while I spotted a common pattern:

  1. Show interest in your audience

2, Display purpose 

3. Create intrigue in you

1) Interest

The first stage in making good connections is to make the other person feel like you value them. Actively listening to your audience, asking questions and responding to their answers flatters them, they feel you care and as a result they are likely to share more about themselves with you.

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.“ Theodore Roosevelt

Do not be fooled into thinking listening means we surrender control to the speaker, it is the person asking questions and listening that directs the conversation. And ideally you will ask questions that eventually get your audience to ask you the question you want to hear i.e. what do you do/what are you looking for? “Ask not what information do I need to convey but what questions do I want my audience to ask?” George Loewenstein

As soon as your audience falls silent resist the temptation to talk about yourself wait until a direct enquiry is made and you are given permission to talk about yourself. People at networking events are usually anxious and pregnant with information they cannot wait to share with everyone. Only once they are unburdened are they truly free to listen to others, to you. This is why if I am in a group of people I will try to be the last person to talk about myself. Past partners have found this approach very frustrating at parties, ‘why don’t you talk about yourself?’ they would ask. I would explain my priority is not to speak but to be heard and our audience is always more receptive once they have spoken about themselves.

Waiting to speak until being asked has one other bonus: our audience are more likely to remember what we say if it is an answer to their question. Think about it, information received but not requested is like a broadcast, it may or may not be of interest to us. Take a look at how people treat a home device like Amazon’s Echo. If listening to the radio through it they will happily multi-task but, when they ask the device a question they are focused on hearing the answer.

 

“It is the province of knowledge to speak. It is the province of wisdom to listen.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

2) Purpose

After we have asked questions and our audience has given us permission to speak it is our chance to shine.

We should take this opportunity to make clear to our audience we have a very attractive trait: purpose. “If people believe you have a plan, that you know where you are going, they will follow you instinctively.” Robert Greene, The Art of Seduction Robert Greene

Robert Greene may be overstating the power of purpose a little, librarians may have purpose but not everyone will want to follow them but we do gravitate toward people with purpose, often if it is something we lack. In this instance your purpose is to resolve a problem or challenge.

Unfortunately most people dive straight in to an explanation about who they are and what they are doing, ignoring the problem they are trying to solve altogether. To give ‘what we are doing’ meaning we must give ourselves context and assign ourselves purpose.

Explaining our Purpose: Past – Present – Future

For a long time I struggled to communicate to people my challenge, my purpose, particularly if they were strangers. Not only was I a typical self-deprecating Brit under selling myself but I also failed to order my thoughts. I would come out with words like they were being pulled out of a tombola. All this changed when I learnt the simple rule of past, present, future.

This chronological order is familiar to everyone, as babies we are told stories beginning with the past ‘once upon a time….’ i.e. in the past. By talking about the past we increase the chances our audience are familiar with the subject and if this is the case we have an audience in agreement with us. An audience in agreement with us is more likely to agree with what we say next because we have a natural inclination to be consistent.

“The desire for consistency is a central motivator of our behaviour” Robert Cialdini

After we have discussed the problem in the past and what it looks like today it is time to move to the future.

The Future: Our Vision

By vision I do not mean how you view yourself in ten years, sipping champagne on Mars. A vision is the way you see the world and how people will act within it over the next five to ten years.

I find it remarkable people do not give this area more thought. They will open a business, change job, and plan a life without any sense of vision. Your vision does not need to be wholly accurate; no one will be holding you to it. It simply needs to be credible. Note Niels Bohr’s observation “Predications are difficult, particularly about the future.”

I recently helped a business school finance graduate get an investment-banking job through networking, she incorporated a strong vision into her pitch, and here is an excerpt

“Increased automation in the future will mean what I am doing today is unlikely to be performed by humans in ten years time. And, the banking landscape is likely to be fractured and democratized. It is therefore important people employed today can be employed in the future. They need to have a broad skill base, able to perform regression analysis as well as show very human traits, such as empathy.”

Giving our vision gives us purpose beyond today, all the more attractive to our audience.

Waiting to speak until being asked has one other bonus: our audience are more likely to remember what we say if it is an answer to their question. Think about it, information received but not requested is like a broadcast, it may or may not be of interest to us. Take a look at how people treat a home device like Amazon’s Echo. If listening to the radio through it they will happily multi-task but, when they ask the device a question they are focused on hearing the answer.

3) Intrigue

All this time we have held back from talking about what we do/what we are looking for, while most people will have spilt the beans straight away, why?

Not only do we need to give ourselves purpose but we also need to generate anticipation because contrary to popular belief most of the time when we are speaking to someone they are not listening to us, they are waiting. Usually they are waiting for their turn to speak.

If we are honest we can probably all recall ‘listening’ to someone speak only for our thoughts to wander off onto a personal concern: maybe you see a waiter passing by with some food and wish you could grab some, maybe you have just started the 5:2 diet, see a waiter passing by with some food and wish you could avoid them…..

We should always expect our audience to favour their thoughts over others unless we can hack into their attention. One way to do this is to exploit people’s fascination with secrets.

Secrets

Have you ever stayed in a bedroom with a chest of draws and pulled out each and every drawer to see what is inside? What if one of the drawers was locked? Do you ignore that drawer and carry on? If you were in a hotel chain maybe you would think nothing more but what if you were in a boutique hotel in an old country house? Secrets put a value of importance on the unknown.

‘I wonder what is inside that drawer….?’

After we have travelled through time, past, present and future, we reveal our answer but not in full, we convey just enough so our audience lean in and want to know more; at that point we stop speaking. We outline our solution but not how we achieve it – this is our secret, which boosts our audience’s curiosity even further.

Why Hold Back?

Networking is not a suitable place for us to provide a full explanation of how we do what we do. It is too busy and too distracting to do us justice. We want our audience one-on-one, where we have more time and where we can control our environment, no interruptions, no offers of canapés and no unwelcome host speeches. By providing an incomplete answer we will arouse further curiosity.

Here is what I would say when I was asked about my technology business, first past, present, future then:

‘We have developed a piece of technology that solves that problem’. Pretty light right!

Inevitably I would often then be asked ‘how do you do that!?’ Great! I have another question! At this point people might show their tablet of truth their iPad, to demonstrate their solution and reveal the technology but I always resisted this temptation. If pushed I would mention some broad principles but not enough to satisfy my audience’s curiosity: for that they would need to speak to me after the networking event.

Summary

To successfully persuade someone always starts by asking what interests him or her not us. The favourite subject of most people is themselves and that is the topic for our questions. Once our audience feels like they have been given sufficient attention and respect they will look to reciprocate and ask us ‘what are you looking for/what is it you do?’

We develop our relationship into a good connection by not giving our audience what they want but what they need, a story of adversity: from the past to the present and the future. We then present ourselves as the solution to this challenge and that is when our story ends, we say nothing more. More is the reward for speaking to us after networking.

Successful TV series like Game of Thrones drive audiences to watch one episode after another by leaving a question at the end of every episode. Our incomplete answer is our cliffhanger that builds an audience after the networking event.