The Art of Collecting People
Chuck is a third generation business owner. I met him at the Ventriloquist Convention we hold every year in Fort Mitchell, KY as a part of our museum, Vent Haven. Ventriloquism is alive and well thanks to people like my friend Jeff Dunham and it is at the convention we get together and talk about and with dummies.
Chuck is a connector. He connects to people and he connects people to other people. He is traditionally known as someone who networks. But calling Chuck a ‘networker’ seems to cheapen what he does.
When I envision a networker, I see someone who is anxious to get your business card into his hand. While you are in a conversation with this person, their eyes are darting around the room looking for the next business card to grab. The slickest networkers can hold the conversation long enough to get your vital information and how many widgets you buy a year (like the ones they sell). They jot it on the back of the card and after a hardy handshake they are off to the next person and you are excused.
Chuck would never do that. Chuck wants to meet you, get to know you as a person and find out more about YOU. Once he makes a connection, Chuck begins a relationship. To be clear, Chuck wants to do business with you as much as anyone that networks, he just wants to connect first.
Throwing a Party for Myself
When named publisher of a newspaper, a colleague taught me a valuable lesson.
“Throw yourself a party,” John said. “You will cut your networking time in half.”
John was right. I rented the local country club event room, ordered up a large amount of hors d’oeuvres and paid the bar tab. At the appointed hour, the room filled to capacity. I met so many people my head spun. I remember looking across the room at Nancy, my wife, and catching her eye. We were both overwhelmed.
After the party, I made sure that I reached out to as many people as possible. I dropped a note and made a visit. It took about a year, but I did it. As a result, I made some good business contacts and many friends.
My Friend Don
Years later I would be named group publisher of four daily and five weekly newspapers in Massachusetts. I threw myself not one, but four parties. It was at one of the parties that I met Don.
Don was also new in town. He was taking over a hotel and he showed up at my party with his bosses from Chicago. Don and I connected and reconnected repeatedly.
I made sure that anyone that was coming to town to do business with us stayed at Don’s hotel. Don always made sure that their rooms were extra special and always contained a welcome basket. I often heard feedback from visitors that they so impressed with the service.
Over the years, I have held or attended many events at Don’s hotel. We made a strong connection and developed a relationship. We now enjoy getting together for lunch where we do a lot of laughing.
How to Collect People
The next time you attend a networking event, gauge your success on how many people you get to know, not how many cards you have in your pocket at the end of the night. If it is cards that you want, tie a fishbowl around your neck and promise to give away a prize.
Spend time actually talking to people. If you make a connection, follow up with a note, an email or a cup of coffee. Learn about people outside of what they do or how THEY can help YOU. Once the relationship grows, you will find yourself connecting that person to other people who need them for their talent and resources. In return, that person will be there for you.
Don’t Collect Business Cards, Collect People
Without a doubt, I have more business cards than connections. It is the nature of the beast at networking events. However, my contact list is filled with people. People I have connected with and people I connect to other people.
I have stacks of business cards, but I treasure my collection of people.
When Chuck or I meet you, we want to get to know you first. We can worry about how we might help each other later. We want to add you to our collection of people. If things really progress, we want to call you a friend.
Business cards are great and they are a wonderful tool for networking. Just remember that there is DNA on the card that is unique to that person. Get to know more of them.
Al Getler is a writer, speaker and consultant in the areas of media, digital media, leadership and customer service. He is also a comedian and a ventriloquist. Summed up, it means you will laugh and learn with him at your company, your convention or your event.