When it comes to networking, I’m a big believer. The simple truth is that people enjoy working with other people they know and like. But meeting important or influential people in your field is difficult, and when the opportunity comes, it’s tough knowing how to act.
I used to worry about finding the balance between being perceived as a stalker or being perceived as uninterested. At parties, conference, or other events, I really struggled with how to conduct myself with a VIP that I really wanted to meet. If you ever find yourself in that situation, here’s a few tips that can make a real difference:
1. Don’t talk too much.
Novices often make the mistake of feeling like they have to impress and end up dominating the conversation. The classic rule is that a good listener impresses people more than a big talker. I’ve actually had people who worked months to schedule a meeting with me, and then talked nonstop during the meeting. After 45 minutes I had to end the meeting, and wondered why they even came. They could have talked to themselves at home. A good rule is: Stop talking before the VIP stops listening.
2. Don’t be a suck up.
VIP’s don’t need to be reminded about how much you love their music, read their books, or admire their company. Be nice, but don’t overdo the praise. That only makes them uncomfortable. A better approach is to mention a particular song, book, movie, or project that meant something particularly important to you. A woman at a book signing told me in tears how a story in my book “Jolt!” had helped her understand her own father, and she was able to help him after he was laid off from his job. I would have talked with her for hours.
3. Be interested in them, not what they can do for you.
On one of my first jobs in TV, I desperately wanted to meet the director of the show, but noticed he spent all day answering people’s questions about camera positions, lighting, make-up, scripting, and more. So I took a different approach. At the coffee machine one day, I asked him about his daughter who was in medical school. His eyes lit up, and we chatted for almost an hour. He was so grateful to talk about something other than business, we hit it off instantly and become immediate friends.
4. Don’t overstay your welcome.
Pay attention, and you’ll see when the conversation begins winding down. Excuse yourself immediately before things get awkward, and leave them wanting more.
5. Finally, in that first encounter, don’t ask for personal phone numbers or email addresses.
If it’s appropriate, hand them your business card, but don’t necessarily demand theirs. If possible, offer them a gift. I’ll usually ask for an address where I can send them a complimentary copy of my new book. I’ve never been turned down yet, and in most cases, they give me their cell phone and personal information as well.