The Networking Meeting That Changed My Life; And It Can Change Yours Too!

Bob Zimmerman

I remember when I was introduced to networking. It sucked! I was uncomfortable. I was actually shy and didn't know what to say or do. Most people that know me wouldn’t believe it. But it's true.

Before I share with you what I consider the most important networking best-practice, I’m going to share the story of how I was introduced to networking. It has truly changed my life, personally and professionally.

Joe Made Me Do It…

Early in my career, I had a great mentor. Joe always looked out for me. One day, Joe asked me why I didn’t bother networking. I told him I didn’t know how and I didn’t know what was expected, so I was afraid.

Joe asked about the last work meeting I attended. I told him we were kicking off a project for the sales leadership team and we just had the kickoff meeting.

Joe sat in my chair and typed out an email to the VP of Sales that was in the meeting. The email said it was great having a project with him and I’d love to get a chance to network over lunch. Blah Blah Blah.  Joe sat me down and said the decision to send the note was mine. After a few minutes, I pressed send.

About three weeks later, Joe and I were going to lunch. When he stopped by, he asked me if I ever heard back from the VP. I chuckled and said, “Of course not; I told you so.” Before we left for lunch, my phone rang. It was the VP’s secretary. She explained that his lunch date just cancelled and he wanted to know if I was free for lunch.

I put the phone against my shirt, so she couldn’t hear me. “He didn’t want to go to lunch with me, his date cancelled and I’m just a fill in!” Joe laughed at me and said, “Don’t be an idiot (he said that a lot), go to lunch.”

I lifted the phone back to my ear and heard the secretary laughing. She heard every word. “Barry will meet you at Friday’s in 15 minutes. Enjoy lunch.” I felt like such an idiot.

But Wait, There's More

I met Barry for lunch. After the chit chat, he asked me “So what’s up? How can I help?” I told him I was learning to network and Joe suggested I ask him to lunch. “Joe gave me one rule. I was not allowed to talk about work, at all, unless you chose to do so.”

Barry laughed and told me Joe was very smart. He went on to ask about my background, my family, how I arrived at the company etc. He shared his background etc. It turns out we both loved magic and used the same magic shop in the city for supplies. We spent almost 2 hours at that lunch. And that wasn’t the best part.

The Payoff

Remember the sales project where I met Barry? A few months later, it was off the rails. We had another meeting with sales to discuss the issues. There were 8 folks from our team, including my boss and her boss. And there were 4 folks from sales including Barry. It was a painful meeting.  As everyone was getting up to leave, Barry looked across the room and said, “Bob, anything you can do to help us out would mean a lot. Let me know if you need anything from me.” And he left.

You could’ve heard a pin drop. We had our butts handed to us. And after what seemed like forever, I realized everyone was staring at me. My boss's boss finally said “What the heck was that? How do you know Barry?” I simply responded: “I know Barry from Networking”. 

Barry and I connected; I was more than just an IT dude that was frustrating him. I was “someone in his network” and he asked for my help. 

There is a key rule that will make or break your networking meeting. And so, I’m finally ready to share the rule: 

The Rule...

It is the cardinal rule. On Shark Tank, Mr. Wonderful is known to say, "You're Dead to Me". If you break this rule, many new connections will feel it and you’ll be dead to them!

When Networking, You Are Not Allowed To Ask For Anything, Unless They Ask You Too…

Yup, it's that simple. If you’re networking with someone in your office, you should avoid talking about relevant work. That would make it a working-meeting, not a networking meeting.

If you’re in transition, avoid bringing up that you are looking for a job. When they ask, you can share it. I can’t remember a time that the person across the table didn’t ask me “So what’s going on with you?” or “How can I help you?”. 

When they ask, I emphasize, that’s not why I wanted to connect, but then I share. I make it clear that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting. And it really wasn’t! The beauty is that if they feel like we connected, they will want to help without my asking. 

And if you’re in sales, this works as well. Don’t cold call or show-up-and-throw-up (I hate that slang). Network, connect and try to help! They will appreciate it.

The Challenge:

You will have to do this on trust. I know this may go against every need or fear in your body, but I challenge each and everyone one of you to have 3 network meetings. Here are the rules:

  1. Meet someone new. An acquaintance or a friend of a friend.
  2. Don’t bring your agenda. Go with the only goal of connecting so you may be able to help them.
  3. Resist the urge to ask for something. Let them ask you.

Give it a try at least three times. I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

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