February 5, 2016
How to Start Meaningful, Professional Relationships in a Room Full of 500 People
We’ve all been there.
Stuck in a room of 500 other professionals going from circle to circle, attempting to forge the beginnings of a meaningful relationship out of a business card and a cocktail. For many, these events only end with dozens of business cards to which you could hardly match the name with the face of its owner.
I know this struggle. I was the epitome of this struggle. That is, until I stopped networking, and started actually building REAL relationships.
The amazing crew at DC Nightowls holds co-working events at local DC co-working spaces every couple weeks, which are great opportunities to meet and network with fellow entrepreneurs and creatives. It was at their latest event, which was held at the beautiful 1776 in Washington, DC, that I began my journey of building 200 meaningful business relationships.
I walked in knowing no one and walked out with the building blocks of seven real relationships. These relationships represent possibilities for collaboration, advice, key introductions, and of course, sales!
So what was my recipe for success? Well…it all started with a dash of curiosity.
Start with a dash of genuine curiosity
When you start off any type of relationship, it can seem like there’s a 10,000 foot invisible wall that both parties have built and fortified. It’s up to each person to knock that wall down to allow a real connection to be made. In order to knock down those walls you have to make people feel comfortable, and the best way to do that is to get people to talk about themselves. I mean, who doesn’t love to talk about themselves to a genuinely interested audience?
However, sincerity is the key. It is important to walk into every conversation with a genuine interest in what the other person is doing. A genuine interest in their business, their career, their history, their latest vacation, their favorite restaurant, and their favorite team to root against (probably the Patriots or any team with a guy named LeBron).
You can start off with the obvious. If you’re at a startup event, ask about their business, their latest projects, and the latest trends in their industry. Also, remember to dig a little and ask the appropriate follow-up questions to further a rapport.
A great rule of thumb for every initial conversation I have with someone I’ve just met is to try and walk away knowing five interesting facts about that person.
ProTip: Someone’s name is not an interesting fact. Get to really know them! If you find out that someone was a founding member a 500 Startups backed company, you’re starting to find some interesting facts.
Remember to also look for a few clues that will give you insight on the background of the person you’re talking to. This can be extremely easy online since everyone has a Twitter, Linkedin, and often times a company profile that you can check. You can also do this easily in-person as well. Check to see what interesting t-shirt or shoes someone’s wearing. If they have on the latest Yeezy’s, chances are they are dying to tell you the epic story of how they obtained them. Paying attention to things like accents, body language, and other signs can give you great clues on a person’s background.
One of the biggest networking wins I have had this year was with a friendly Lyft driver named Nick that just so happened to be the co-founder of an awesome new startup out of DC called Pyazza.
We met as he picked my crew up from a local festival. I sat in the front seat, noticed a 1776 sticker on his dashboard, and asked him if he often worked at the workspace. He said he didn’t usually frequent 1776, but that he was the founder and CEO of an amazing startup and good friends with a few of the guys who gave me my first shot in the startup world.
That’s what I like to call an instant connection, and it was made possible by staying alert to my surroundings and the aesthetic clues around me.
Then make a connection
After you have begun to break down that wall, you need to remember to build something in it’s place so it won’t build itself back up. That something you must build is trust, and the best way to build it is to share stories, facts, and interesting tidbits about yourself that are relatable.
This was something I struggled with in my younger years. I was eager to stay out of the spotlight and let the other person shine, but I froze when it was my turn to talk about myself. This left the other person feeling like they had just been interviewed, instead of partaking in a sincere conversation. Relationship building is a two way street, and you must do your part.
During my initial run-in with Nick from Pyazza, we were able to figure out our mutual connection because I shared that I was also involved with startups. I made sure that I didn’t just interview him, but found something that we had in common and commented on it. We then dug deeper into our mutual interests and found a mutual connection. After that, any walls that we had up came crumbling down.
Offer to give
Once you’ve been able to disarm people and make a connection with them through similar interests or some other mutual connection, make sure you offer to give, in whatever capacity you can, before ever thinking of what you can receive from them. Giving can come in many different forms. It can be an introduction to a valuable contact that you have in your network, a helpful piece of advice, or an offer to help them with a project they are working on.
During my initial meeting with Nick, my offer was simply advice. Back then, Pyazza was in the early stages of their product launch and they were starting to roll out their marketing strategy. Nick and I got on the topic of social media tactics and I gave him a few tips on how he could expand his social footprint via Instagram quickly, yet inexpensively by using a few easy-to-implement tools. I can’t say if their team implemented these tactics, but I do believe Nick was appreciative of my well-meaning advice and impressed with my knowledge on the topic. I was able to then walk away from that short conversation having potentially helped his team and left an impression on a great new contact. I had built the beginnings of a great professional relationship.
Now this last part is perhaps the most important, and most botched, part of building meaningful professional relationships. Many people (not all) remember to follow-up with contacts, but very few people understand how to do this correctly.
You must remember to not only follow-up, but to also remember to keep on giving. As we said above, an introduction to a valuable contact that you have in your network, a helpful piece of advice, and a offer to help them with a project they are working on are all great ways to give a little and really add value to people’s lives.
In order to help you remember to add value, you can use a CRM like karmaCRM that automatically reminds you when to follow up with your contacts on a continuous schedule.
You simply need to add your new contact to karmaCRM, and then simply add them in the appropriate bucket. You’ll then be automatically reminded to follow up with that connection according to your preferences.
ProTip: Use FullContact’s card reader and Zapier to scan all your business card’s directly into karmaCRM. Be sure to try karmaCRM’s Zapier integration by the way. Connecting karmaCRM with 400 other applications just amplifies the awesome.
Then you’ll need to make sure that you follow up with some sort of valuable information or insight regarding our conversation. For instance, I sent Nick from Pyazza a few links to instagram marketing tools and a link to a blog article I had written about the topic. I continued to be helpful. You can send your new connections links to helpful articles, insightful whitepapers, or requests to introduce them to people that can help them out.
The last piece to master in the art of following up is to keep on following up. Relationships aren’t built from a single email and sometimes that email gets missed, ignored, or trashed. Don’t be afraid to have a bit of professional persistence and respectfully follow up with value added messages two or even three times before you get a reply.
We covered a lot here so remember:
Aim to learn five interesting facts about your new potential connections Build trust by opening up about yourself and making a connection Follow up by adding value Follow up again by adding value Follow up one more time… by adding value
There you have it! Now it’s your turn. How have you guys been building meaningful relationships? Sound off in the comments below.