Confession time: The first time I met Adrian Granzella Larssen, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Muse, I called her the wrong name—twice.
Adrian very gracefully ignored the first mistake, corrected the second, and somehow, two months later, offered me a job at the company. But that mistake has haunted me, and since then I’ve spent a lot of time brushing up on how to be a better networker. (And working on my ability to remember names—here are a few tips on that.)
If you’re like me and could use some networking inspiration from the pros, check out how these four leaders make connections.
1. Keith Ferrazzi
Ferrazzi is the CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight and the author of two popular networking books: Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time and Who’s Got Your Back. Way back in 2003, he told Inc. one of his secrets to success: Never stop keeping track of your “dream connections.”
“I'm constantly ripping out lists in magazines. I was one of Crain’s ‘40 under 40’ when I was 30. Interestingly enough, I had been ripping out 40-under-40 lists for years and continue to do so. Those are individuals who somebody has spent enough time to identify as an up-and-comer, a mover, an intellectual, and these are the kinds of people I want to surround myself with. I rip out lists of top CEOs, most admired CEOs, regional lists. A recent book by Richard Saul Wurman lists the 1,000 most creative people in the United States. It’s fantastic.”
Ferrazzi’s strategy is super easy to implement. Next time you go to a conference, write down the names of the keynote speakers. When you’re reading industry news, write down the names of the people being quoted or discussed. Keep track of the companies winning awards in your area or professional space—and who runs them.
2. Reid Hoffman
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, is arguably one of the best networkers of the online era. In a Fortune article, he reveals that his networking philosophy is all about helping other people—the right way.
“To be truly helpful…you need to have a sense of your friend’s values and priorities. What keeps him up at 2 AM? What are his talents? His challenges? Once you understand his needs, think about offering him a small gift. A small gift is something that’s easy for you to give, unique to the relationship, and unusually helpful for the other person. Classic small gifts include relevant information, introductions, and advice. A really expensive big gift is actually counterproductive—it can feel like a bribe. When deciding what to give, reflect on your unique experiences and capabilities. What might you have that the other person does not?”
Once you start looking for opportunities to do small favors for your connections, they’re incredibly easy to find.
Right this very second, I want you to choose a professional. Any professional will do—your boss, your intern, your former co-worker, someone you met at a networking event last year—you get the drift. Now, think of another person the first person could benefit from knowing, because they have mutual interests, the ability to help one other, or compatible personalities.
After you’ve chosen your two people, send an email to each asking if you could introduce the two of them (and yes, this double-opt-in intro is important).
Once they say yes? Intro them. And congrats: You just created value, Hoffman-style.
3. Jon Levy
Before this week, I’d never heard of Jon Levy—but apparently that says more about me than it does about him. As Business Insider explains, “Levy may not be a Wall Street billionaire or hotshot advertising executive, but over the past five years, he’s built the Influencers, a network of over 400 interesting and impressive people that includes everyone from Nobel laureates to Olympic athletes.”
Every two weeks, Levy holds Salons: exclusive “TED talk-like” dinner parties for important people from every facet of life.
How does Levy meet and connect with these people? He makes himself mysterious.
“When people ask me what I do, I try to be a little elusive just to create some interest. So I tell people I spend most of my life trying to convince people to cook me dinner. Which is true… a lot of my time is really spent around logistics, phone calls, and emails and all that. But the benefit of [my introduction] is that it sounds so different and then it’s much easier to connect.”
While we don’t recommend making yourself mysterious when your career’s just getting started, we do recommend stealing his introduction strategy. To break yourself out the boring, rote introductions Levy says most of us use, think of an interesting way to describe your current role.
For example, if you’re a data software engineer for Radius, rather than answering, “What do you do?” as “I’m a data software engineer for Radius,” say, “I’m changing the way businesses think about their customers.”
The natural reaction to the first is a “meh”—the natural reaction to the second is “How?”
4. Ivan Misner
Misner knows a lot about networking—so much so that he wrote a book, Networking for Pros, and started BNI, a professional business networking organization. Before he meets anyone with whom he’d like to develop a relationship, he does a lot of research.
What’s Misner looking for? Something the professional is “truly interested in.” That could be a charity, a hobby, a side project, even a sports team.
Misner tells Fast Company he used this technique to score a meeting with Richard Branson, the CEO of Virgin Mobile. Misner knew Branson had just launched a nonprofit, so he said, “I understand you’re doing something called the B-Team. Tell me about it.”
“He lit up. I asked him how I could be of help with the project, and suggested interviewing him for my blog.”
Next time you’re trying to reach out to someone, figure out what he or she is passionate about, and then show some interest. And you don’t have to wait to meet professionals in person; find an article related to what they care about and send it to them on Twitter or in an email. You’ll stand out from the hordes of other networkers just looking for what they can get out the relationship.
What are your favorite networking tips? Have you ever messed up the name of someone really important? Tell me on Twitter!.