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March 2009

How do I meet people when I don't know anyone?

Quick tip before I launch into this topic. Please help your friends, family members and colleagues network more effectively. And preoofread their resumes.I realize people are feeling a lot of pressure and they start to panic--the worst thing they can do is get into a purely transactional mode of mass e-mail networking. It is so self-deceiving to push the send button a bunch of times a think you are networking.(refer to my Non-desperate networking blog) The only way to differentiate yourself in a flood of job seekers is to get personal, take the time to reconnect. (Slow down) This is the number one topic laid off execs get who receive outplacement services. 


I have received this question hundreds of times. It usually pertains to going to an event, a reception, or a party. First of all why are you going to places where you know NO-ONE?!! Stop crashing parties and weddings! ;) Clearly you know someone. Someone invited you, there is an affinity or a connection which put you there. That being said, know thyself. Meaning what is your appetite for uncertainty, for adventure, for surprises? Life is a box of chocolates......Or by contrast, do you want to have a lot more control, more of a defined strategy, more certainty? If you tend to be what I call a  grazing shark at networking events, you know someone who finds the food table or bar and hovers and circles that area. Never engaging, hoping to connect, but giving the impression they are going somewhere--back to the food. The grazing sharks never really networks, they look aggressive but actually are harmless and just eats a lot!Grazing shark  I will assume you relate to the grazing shark and want more certainty in your networking experience.

  1. First things first--your brief introductory talk-- your BIT--- how you introduce yourself and what you want are clear in your mind. So starting the conversation is a breeze.
  2. Prepare--What is this event you are going to? Think about who might be there, who you might want to me meet, and who invited you. Even google folks so you are up to speed on what is the latest on the people, their employers, their facebook, etc 
  3. Don't go alone--Networking is a contact sport and a team sport. Bring a colleague, friend, relative. Be a tag team. It would better if your tag team member knows at least one person at the event. You head directly to the one person you know and the the dance begins. Find out who they know and who you do not know or if they know the person you want to meet. If the person is one of the hosts of the event, then you are in luck because you can find out who is at this thing, how she knows them and then ask to be introduced. The key here is go to a hub of the event or create one by figuring out the connections of your connection! The deal you have with your tag team member is anyone who your team meets individually gets introduced to the other, and you find out who they know and the beat goes on. Here is an excerpt from my blog remembering names and faces-Tag Team:  It can be much easier to meet people and remember them when you work as a team. Let me explain. Clue your friend or partner at an event to come to your rescue when the name forgetting thing starts to happen. Seeing you have no idea who this person is, your partner sticks out their hand and introduces themselves, and say "Don't think we have met, I am....." When the mystery person introduces themselves you have their name! And then you look brilliant. My wife Sarah has rescued me more than a few times! 
  4. Don't be late--Arrive early--Being "fashionably late" is great if you know people!When you arrive late it is much harder to meet people. Cliques form, conversations are well under way, and breaking in is intimidating and tough--especially for the less courageous. So when you arrive earlier (you do not need to be there first) you have a chance to join or form a group, you get to meet the other early arrivers and that is always easier. If this is a corporate event/reception, you have a much better chance to meet the VIPs and the speaker, then waiting until the end when everyone converges. 
  5. Open your eyes and your brain--no filters--When you network, you meet people. If you are so focused you will only talk to people like you, or who agree with you, or can help you--then your networking experience will yield few results and you will remain trapped in your social and intellectual silo. The whole point is to expand your network and your mind! Quantity of connections is not your aim. Broadening your network with interesting people who share your interests and who have totally different interests is your objective.  Dozens of studies have shown that people with larger and more diverse networks live longer and have fewer r illnesses. 
  6. Find the joy--Networking, meeting people is fun. Make it a bit of a game with your tag team, then let the conversations dictate where you go. 

Hopefully this type of prep gets you increasingly comfortable with the networking lifestyle. Don't try and do everything by yourself! Networking is about connections, so start by teaming up.

Thanks for reading. John 

Networking with golf balls and bucket lists

Every year I try and accomplish something I have always wanted to do. I have kept a list of places to go and experiences to attempt. Sort of my bucket list, from the great film with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. The bucket list comes from the phrase "kicking the bucket", which refers to the moment the bucket is kicked out from under a hanging man. Despite its morbid beginnings, a "bucket" list is a wish list of things you'd like to see and do before you expire. There is the whole genre of 1000 places to see before you die etc etc. Anyway, I have a list and I recommend you make one too. I have already checked off the typical things like skydiving, race car driving, traversing the Great Wall, repelling a cliff. But it has also included riding the Goodyear blimp, a hole-in-one, attending the world's greatest sporting events.....My golf list included getting a hole-in-one, playing Pebble Beach, and someday going to Scotland to play St Andrews. The list serves as a road map of my incentives for good behavior, something to look forward to AND taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. This last week I played famed Pebble Beach golf course. Glenn bob and jk pebble

My best friend from high school, Glenn Carpenter and I (Glenn's in the middle and that's his Dad Bob to the left) have been conspiring to play the number one course in the world for a couple of years now. Glenn was able to get us on for a good deal on 10 day's notice. So we walked the historic links along the Carmel coast last Monday. Glorious time, no words can suffice! The actual game of knocking the ball around was very challenging, but the vistas and camaraderie were phenomenal. 

Golf has been one of the most powerful forms of networking for me. I feel very fortunate that my Dad taught me the game. Thanks Dad! I have played at least one round of golf with my father for the last 35 years. It is something that binds me to him. All of my kids have had golf lessons, my son Bobby plays and I hope we share this crazy game for the rest of my life.  

Golf has been the subject of great books and movies, Legend of Bagger Vance, Tin Cup, Caddy Shack. Tiger Woods has captured the imagination of the world. It is an unnatural game that either repulses or addicts. It is a game where the ball sits still and motionless and you struggle to hit it. It is a game, like no other, that tests your ability to concentrate, focus, and ultimately to execute. Robin Williams gives the best description of this confounding game and how the Scots invented it. (Warning the routine is filled with profanity)                       

When I was young I never realized the social power of golf. I have met and gotten to know thousands of people on a golf course. Whether planning a round with friends or relatives, or being matched up with a random "stranger" at the course. It is different than many other sports and hobbies. You are outside with nature--you and your colleagues share a desire to conquer the sadistic design and hazards of the course. (This excludes any distracting betting.) And there is always the 19th hole (the after match conversation/commiseration) So you could spend 4-6 hours together. It can be meaningful time. Golf, like no other activity, is part of doing business and fostering business relationships. Every industry I have been associated with (as you know that is a bunch) golf was there and it has helped me. 

Learned a few life lessons from golf that have translated well to my non-golfing life.

  1. Got game?--Golf is about what you have to offer that day. No team to make up for your weaknesses or mistakes.  
  2. We all start out equall--Computerized systems provide each player with a "handicap" based upon their ability and the course. At the outset, we can gauge our progress against ourselves and others.
  3. Positive pre-swing thoughts--The only way to succeed in golf is to envision the best outcome. If you focus on the hazards in front of you, your outcome will fulfill that vision. In other words, the law of attraction, that positive makes positive and negative attracts negative, is a certainty on the golf course.
  4. Etiquette matters--Being polite and respectful of others is an essential part of the game. 
  5. Sportsmanship and the honor system--You have to know the rules and follow them. And at the end of the day you are accountable for your actions. In what other sport do you have a player calling a "foul" on themselves?
  6. The course is not the range  (map is not the territory)--Every course, every shot is different because of the weather, the terrain, the lie of the ball etc, so you have to adapt your swing, your stance, your weight to the circumstances. 
  7. Can't be bad and slow--The two worst things on a course are slow play and bad play. But if you are both, you can ruin the game for everyone around you. 
  8. Keep Score--The only way you know if you are progressing is to keep track of your strengths and weaknesses and how you can improve. 
  9. Get over your mistakes--Have a bad hole, put it behind you as quickly as possible. Tiger takes 10 steps on the course and then forgets the last shot.
  10. Enjoy the walk--As I said golf is outside and usually, like this last Monday, I saw things I will never forget. Nature is so profound and so inspirational. Regardless of the score, you must constantly remind yourself about the special things around you and how fortunate we are to play the game.                                                                                                                               
Golf is a lot like life to me. I think I am a better person because of it. Sounds like a cheezy way for me to try and play more. Seriously, it has helped my career and my networking. You may have seen this one before but it serves as a good reminder to make room for the golf balls first--life, golf balls, and a beer  

What will rise to the top of my bucket list next year?
Thanks for indulging me this week. I will address the topic of "meeting people when you don't know anyone" next week.  Thanks for reading. John


The Role of the Mentee--Making the most from the mentoring relationship

I am grateful that anyone reads my thoughts and ideas. My aim is is to try to respond to your issues. I am glad even those not on the career track get something out of my blog. Always interested in your thoughts and suggestions. Here's a comment about last week's posting. 

I love your blog, John.

But not for the reasons you intend, possibly.  I am not on a "career track."  I'm not trying to "advance my brand," (my comment upon which term I'll keep to can thank me later).

But I love it anyway.  For me, these are not lessons for being successful in a corporate environment, but for being as fully human as possible.  "Say hello.  Smile.  Ask how someone is doing.  Listen to the answer."  All good, basic stuff...and stuff we've somehow lost track of in our current mad rush toward survival or success.  JW

Check out this story about Anonymous charitable networking/mentoring, an inspiring story about donors who want to help others in need and trigger a chain reaction of acts of kindness, Passing it Along. Sometimes we will never know the ones we mentor or help. That's what charity is all about. 


Understanding the expectations of any side of a relationship facilitates its effectiveness. Whether you are a mentor or mentee, it is critical you consider and respect the role of the other. You know the old adage about walking in another's shoes to understand their perspective. I remember at my daughter Jenna's middle school graduation one of her classmates said, "I have learned that by walking a mile in a stranger's shoes that I will be a mile from home in someone else's shoes." :) I prefer the less literal meaning.....

This chart shows the requirements of both roles, notice the similarities.  





Convene, initiate, engage, listen

Respond, initiate, prepare, listen

Honest feedback

Honest revelations


Receptive to feedback

Be available

Respect the time

Hub of resources and references

Seek ways to assist your mentor


Clearly, the process of choosing the right mentor is essential. Once a mentee finds a compatible/potential mentor, the roles are often defined by the MENTEE. Not always, but frequently the mentor is looking for guidance on how they can help. Some have a set process, but most want to know what you want. In those cases, the mentee has to take the initiative. Too often, the mentee thinks they show up with eagerness and listen and the pearls of wisdom will flow. I have encountered numerous mentees that found their mentoring relationship to be less than expectations, mainly because the mentor was unresponsive to their needs. With notable exceptions, mentees defer--out of some assumption that the relationship is a lecture with a Q and A session. Often mentees have no idea what they want and hope that clarity and a sense of direction will emerge from the conversations. When the mentee has sharp question, questions about possible directions/paths/career life choices, then the mentor can be focused about her views and experiences and most importantly, help the mentee understand why they are asking these questions.

8 Habits of Effective Mentees (apologies to S. Covey)

1.     Be Proactive--Assert your agenda, who you are and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Which presumes you have questions and a set of goal assumptions. 

The "I was hoping you would tell me what to do" strikes both fear and loathing in the heart of the mentor. 

2.     Begin with the end in mind--What are you aiming for? What is your vision or your general direction. And why? 

3.     Put first things first--What are your burning questions/choices? What is important to you now? Are there current issues, challenges that need to be addressed to advance your progress? 

4.     Think win/win--How can you help one another? These sessions should evolve into give and takes. In what ways can you assist your mentor? Clues will be given in your sessions. Information she is seeking, charities she supports, causes she follows, hobbies she pursues. Your interest in the mentor's priorities will deepen the relationship and broaden your understanding of the mentor and her success. Please do not misconstrue this with material gifts or birthday presents! 

5.     Seek first to understand then to be understood--You are there for advice--listen! Find the lessons that are being conveyed. Be open to learn things you did not expect. Sometimes a specific agenda disables the mentee from out of the box mentoring moments.

6.     Synergize--The real premise behind mentoring or any great conversation with a trusted colleague is new ideas are forged. 

7.     Renew thyself—Sharpen the saw--When the process works it will energize you. The process of finding what you want and more about who you will give you new strength and momentum.

8.     Find your voice and inspire others--Define and discover your uniqueness and make a commitment to teach others. Teach what you learn to others you care about, which will deepen your understanding. That's how we keep the mentoring lifecycle going.

In many ways, being a mentee has more burden than the mentor. Mentees have to walk the razor's edge of testing their ideas and questions and listening and incorporating the guidance of the mentor. In my mind both are enjoyable, both yield powerful benefits to those who take the roles and responsibilities seriously. And in the end we pass it along. 

Thanks for reading. John

BEYOND small talk ---- engaging in conversation that matters

Just got back from Phoenix where I attended a Board meeting for Walden University. For-profit online university that is enjoying great success. As you probably know education is one of the businesses that grows in hard times. Walden is enjoying record growth from working adults who want to re-tool and re-position themselves. Pursuing your education , degree or not, is one of the most powerful ways of strengthening your network. Meeting and working with people who are serious about their career trajectories always opens up new ways of viewing oneself and one’s opportunities.


When people talk about small talk, they usually mean superficial, meaningless banter. You know, the lines about the weather, or the local sports team—“How about those Lakers?” Or worse, making comments about people’s clothing, “Love that dress.”  C’mon nobody likes saying or hearing these comments.  Take some comfort in the universal disdain for this process. And to a certain extent everyone struggles with the opening line moment.  However, the art of conversation is a skill that speaks volumes about you and your brand.  A Stanford University study of MBAs 10 years after they graduated showed conversation skills were far more important to their career success than the grades earned. The most successful grads were those proficient at talking to anyone—from assistants to bosses. So the art of “small talk” is not just a nice to have talent, it is essential.

First and foremost you have to minimize the fear and discomfort factor. I recently met a fundraiser who told me, “I never talk to people on planes.” I asked her why. She told me that she relishes her privacy. Okay, I can respect that, but if you subscribe to my point of view, networking is a lifestyle means you are open to connecting most of the time. I learn something from everyone I meet. Everyone is entitled to private time, down time, and quiet time. But when you choose a job where interacting with others is vital or you have a burning desire to advance your career then you have to network.  Being open to reaching out and introducing yourself is the first step. Please be sure to read my earlier post about how you introduce yourself.

Second, start with people you know but you don’t know. Colleagues at work you just see in the hallways, a family you see at church every Sunday, a fellow board member at your favorite non-profit, a parent at your kid’s school, a neighbor at the end of the block. Strike up conversations with these people who are in front of your face, may help you broaden network and sharpen your skills. It’s not always about meeting strangers.

Here are some basic tips on how to make this introductory moment easier:

1.       Be yourself: Don’t employ any lines or techniques with which you are not comfortable.  That’s  where the disconnect happens. You try to be someone you are not. So work within your personality and your strengths.

2.       Acknowledge others:  Seek eye contact. Greet people with a simple “hello” or “how are you?” It is a lost courtesy. And if you smile then you will invariably receive a pleasant response.  I found this to be the best and easiest opener. Then I listen. People say things on their minds. And then the conversation is off and running. If it stalls you move to step #3.

3.       Be aware of your environment: Current context is your key.  Where are you at the moment, what are your surroundings?What are you observing? What clues about the people are in  front of you?  Let’s say you are at a conference or a class—a place where you have things in common with the others there.  Let your curiosity guide you. Why are these people here? What are they hoping to gain? What did they think of the speaker or the teacher? So many angles to start a conversation.  You sit next to someone on a plane, or at a meeting, you notice they are carrying a book or the company logo on their briefcase or you overhear them mention their alma mater. These all are possible conversation starters. For those you know but don’t know. The focus  of the initial conversation is basic stuff, what your neighbor thinks about the recent development in the community, what the parents at the school think about the leadership etc etc Start the conversation about what is important at the moment.

4.       Let others lead the conversation:  There is a myth that these tips and techniques are making you the Larry King, Charlie Rose, or Oprah. Clearly, if you are adept at facilitating, moderating, or  interviewing then you have a big advantage. I was pushed into hosting 450 live radio shows when I was younger. I learned the hard way to listen carefully and to let the guest lead. The listeners did not want me to dominate the airwaves—just like a conversation. Sure you have questions and maybe an agenda, but conversations always digress and some of the digressions are the most revealing and insightful. If you want to be a 60 Minutes investigative reporter then you will keep the” interviewees” on track, but you will not be invited back to any events! It is much more interesting if you actually are interested in the people you meet rather than just your needs.

5.       Never say “yeah but”: After someone else speaks we have a tendency to try and top the story or tell our story without building on what has been said. Often, we are thinking, “please stop talking because I have a better story.” Instead acknowledge what has been said by commenting on what is funny or impressive about the story. Then, say “yes and” to build on what has been said. This is a classic method of improv theatre actors. To take the last line and not negate it but use it positively to advance the conversation. If you say “yeah but” then you block the conversation, as improvers would say.

The art of conversation and even “small talk” is an invaluable building block of networking.  Small talk can lead to big ideas. If you are curious, observant, open to meeting people, acknowledge what people say by listening—you will meet people who will change your life, the lives of your network, and like Stanford MBAs you will find greater success.

Thanks for reading. John

Maintaining my growing network

Vote on my next blog !     ------------------------------------------>

Before I start this edition, let's reflect on the current world and the importance of maintaining your perspective of what is occurring. If you feel hypnotized or numb from the changes that are bursting around us, then you are in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. Make sure you are paying close attention. If your organization shrinks another 20%, would YOU be laid off? Who around you seems frozen by change, or uncertainty, obsessed with the rumor mill, or just going through the motions?These are the most vulnerable now. And where do you fit into this spectrum? Layoffs are not being based on seniority or classification. They are increasingly done to weed the staff that are not performing NOW, staff less committed, and of course on cost---meaning high salaries are more vulnerable. Smart orgs are "right sizing" to where they think the org is headed and not on where its been. 

Watch this video to put things back in perspective:

Maintaining my growing network

If you are growing your network in this environment, then you are to be congratulated. That means you are reaching out to new and existing contacts to nurture and engage in mutually beneficial relationships. The key here is EXISTING relationships. If you are trying to accumulate a multitude of brand new contacts, then maintenance is very challenging. However, maintaining  a network of people you know is simpler. There is a irrational impulse to meet as many new people as possible. This violates the spirit of networking as I define it. So, a focus on reconnecting with your network to discover the incredible array of information, knowledge, expertise, and yes, contacts they have, is vital. That being said a few pointers on keeping track and therefore keeping the network warm and vibrant.

  1. Schedule time with your key contacts: List the people that are crucial to your network without regard to your current relations with them. People you know who can and have been very important to you. Invariably, some of them you have lost touch with. How often I hear this disturbing phrase, "Been so busy I don't have time for my friends anymore." Pick the handful of people you have to connect with on a regular basis and schedule a regular meeting or phone call. You don't need a reason to connect, you connect because you need to and want to. It will always make you feel good and provide you with an insight or two. Since I started doing this it has given me great rewards and I stay connected. Hmmm just thought of more people I need to connect with.........
  2. Define and prioritize the rest: Keep a running list of people you need to reconnect with both old and new. People who's view of the world you value. People who you wish had more time to get to know better or whose company you enjoy. Make it a to-do list and make it part of your regular routine. 
  3. Beyond a rolodex or business card file---Take Notes!: Collecting cards and filing them in alpha order or inputting them into you contacts file is a start. But maintaining your contacts new and old requires updates. Adding notes about their family, their job, and their needs. Unless you have a photographic memory, you can not remember all of this. I have a photographic memory, just never any film. :) Seriously, put these updates and notes on the back of the card or input them into your contact database. I have been a cardscan user for many years because of the volume of cards I get.    
  4. Make the process of connecting urgent: If you follow the above, then these are folks you want to see and talk to. Therefore it is important--do not put it off. Avoid anything approaching desperation, except with your inner circle. I constantly test people trying to connect with me, people I have met but do not know me well. I ask them, "Is this important?" More often than not the say it is not and they will connect me later--they face off into the distance. They give up too easily. :) 

That's why I call it a lifestyle. Make your connections part of your habit. Maybe just as important as your exercise routine. Connecting can be very aerobic. It breathes life into you and gives you confidence. How is your network doing in this environment? What steps are they taking? How can you help others? Funny thing, the world does get smaller and a small world is much easier to manage. 

Thanks for reading. John