What is your most surprising networking moment? Can you pinpoint a time and place and person with whom you least expected to connect but which changed everything for you? Or maybe it wasn’t that it changed everything but that it just made your day – or your new contact’s day?
For example, once in the Baltimore airport, while desperately trying to find a wi-fi connection, I fell into conversation with a fellow who happened to be an adjunct professor at a university in my hometown. He later invited me to serve as a guest speaker for his marketing course. I ended up not with one new connection, but with several after taking those students into account.
Another time, just this summer, I was in a meeting at work with a visitor – a potential customer – visiting Kansas City from Minneapolis. Looking over the individual’s business card, I commented to him that he was from the same suburb where, just the week prior, I had met a bus that returned my son to me after two weeks at sleep away camp in Wisconsin. He asked which camp… I said, “oh, you probably wouldn’t know it… it is in Webster, Wisconsin.” A smile came over his face as he exclaimed, “Well, just so you know, my mother-in-law, my wife and all three of my boys attended Herzl Camp, too!” Wow! What a small world! That world became smaller still when we discovered that his son had been one of my son’s camp counselors! Not only were we able to connect on a professional level, but we now have a personal connection – both of which have led to a fruitful business relationship for all parties.
My friend, Steve Timperley, shared with me a great networking story that, with his permission, I have been eager to pass along to you. He reminded me that it is often random interactions – like riding an elevator with a stranger or while searching for your favorite cereal at the supermarket – that create some of the best networking opportunities.
About three years ago, while, in fact, standing in line at a hotel breakfast buffet, Steve noticed the fellow in front of him was sporting an English accent. Since Steve, a native South African with a British accent of his own, didn’t hear too many similar accents in the heart of the American Midwest, he decided to strike up a conversation with the gentleman, though, he tells me, he wasn’t really in the mood to chat. He recalls willing himself to say, “That looks like an awesome breakfast! How are you doing this morning?”
To this day, Steve remains so grateful for having opened a dialog with the guy. The pair ended up having a great conversation over breakfast. Steve’s opening lines ultimately resulted in a strategic partnership which has progressed over the years and the fellow has become one of Steve’s biggest, most important clients. Not a bad a result from a simple, cheerful greeting!
The important lesson here is opportunities to connect surround us at all times and they can sneak up on us when we least expect them. As Steve put it to me, a lot of people, especially those who may be a bit introverted, rely to select events, certain environments or simply times when they resolve to “turn on” their networking mindset to start conversation and connect. As a result, it is vital to be open to these moments, to embrace them, to capitalize on the chance to begin relationship building even when it is at a less obvious moment or in a less obvious location.
So, take another look around you. With whom might you be able to exchange information, in whose life might you be able to add value? Keep an eye out for him/her. You may just run into them when you least expect it. You can’t force it; you want all of your interactions to be authentic. But, be assertive, be prepared, be on the lookout, be ready to take advantage of important opportunities when they present themselves.