When Networking Isn’t Really Networking

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If you’re easily offended you may want to skip this post. I’m going to poke a finger at some of you and you might get mad.

But I swear I’m doing it out of love… truly.

I see a lot of people at meetings, events and conferences who are satisfied because they are “networking”. While they may, indeed, be checking the “showed up at an event and said hello to people I already know” off their list, they aren’t helping their business much at all.

You see, “networking” doesn’t help you much if you only talk to the same people over and over again. Now it’s true that I preach from the hilltops about networking being a multi-faceted activity… and that we all do it all the time. However, if you are going to an event with the purpose of networking and you are not talking to people you don’t know… or you are only chatting with the person you came with… you are not making much of the opportunity.

I’ve been doing some studying about networks (not the computer kind… that was my former life). And it turns out that there are two types of networks, open networks and closed networks.

Closed networks are self-contained. Everyone knows everyone else. The communication flows through the network pretty efficiently because of this but there is very little new input… that’s why it’s called a “closed” network. The down side to this is that it tends to stagnate. It is very comfortable, but there is a danger in that comfort.

An open network, on the other hand, is one where many of the people in it don’t actually know each other directly. That makes you sort of the “hub” of the network. You can funnel information from one group to another. And yes, that’s a harder network to manage since those people might not naturally show up at the same place together. But there are distinct advantages to building an open network. Actually, the most successful entrepreneurs tend to have open networks, such as Steve Jobs.

Jobs became a bridge between several groups of people in different areas of knowledge. It was natural for him since he had varied interests. Ultimately that helped him to incorporate that disparate knowledge into Apple’s products. It’s why the original Macintosh computer had different type faces. Jobs brought that in from his “artsy” network contacts where he learned about calligraphy. He introduced this info to his “engineer” network contacts who knew how to get the cool type faces into a computer.

While we may not all be Steve Jobs, or have his knack for connecting different technologies together, we can all intentionally build an open network. Having an open network keeps you more relevant to all your connections. If people you know are learning new things from you, and you always have something interesting to share from your other contacts, then people will want to interact with you. That’s half the battle in networking, having something to talk about. By opening up your network you’ll gather more info, make better conversation and be more valuable to everyone you come into contact with.

This is why you need to be talking to people you don’t know when you’re out networking, regardless of where you happen to be. Because you have to meet new people regularly, and engage with them, in order to build that open network. It’s what will keep your network growing and help you do more than just check “networking” off off your weekly to do list.

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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You can follow Eric @pitchforsuccess on Twitter or on Facebook at PitchforSuccess

To get information on sharing this article or having Eric speak to your group email questions@pitchforsuccess.com

Create an Environment for Succees

13885227_sYour environment can make a big splash on your success.

I’m not just talking about your physical environment, but also your social environment. The key is to surround yourself with things that are not just positive but inspiring. That goes for the people you bring into your circle of influence too. Your environment does matter. A study by Dr. Nicholas Christakis and Dr. James Fowler found that people who are surrounded by happy people are more likely to be happy themselves.

Happy people are more productive… even you. The people and situations you surround yourself with can have a positive and profound impact on how you perceive the world, and therefore how you live in it. So be intentional about who and what you keep nearby.

Another way to impact your success is to grow yourself, not just your business. Emotional and intellectual growth both help you stretch yourself in good ways. Read books. Not just business books, but not just non-business books either. Listen to podcasts or interviews about things you don’t know much about. Watch documentaries and shows on new ways of thinking. Stretch your understanding of your business and industry by reading articles that may contain new ideas or new approaches you hadn’t thought of. Allowing yourself to be pushed a bit outside your comfort zone will help you be more flexible and better at spotting solutions you may have missed in the past.

Here are a couple of books I’ve read recently that I enjoyed. Feel free to try one of them out and watch your perspective open up. Both were eye opening looks at leadership that gave me some relevant insights.

Seth Godin: Tribes
Simon Sinek: Leaders Eat Last

Challenge yourself but also leave room to be uplifted. Make sure to surround yourself with things that inspire you. Whatever form that takes. Inspiration comes from many places and can also spark the creative process more effectively when you’re doing mundane tasks too. Paintings, graphic art, music, furniture or even the color of your office walls can help you feel surrounded by possibilities, or stuck in a beige business grind. Add some color to your day and you’ll find yourself smiling at odd times… and just possibly thinking more clearly too.

One of the things I do every morning is to start the day with music. I vary it by my mood, however I like to create mixes that I can play that puts me in a positive mood. In his book “This is Your Brain on Music”, Daniel Levity explains that “music involves nearly every every region of the brain we know about, and nearly every neural subsystem”. Maybe that’s why I like to listen to my mix so much when I’m getting ready for the day.

Listening to music activates the same pleasure areas in your brain that eating does. Areas that have evolved to reward productive behavior that keeps us alive. Perhaps this is where the idea that music nourishes the soul comes from. Below is a song that I like to listen to when I’m feeling overwhelmed or struggling to keep perspective when things aren’t going my way.

“Breathe” by Telepopmusik

It is on several of my music mixes, especially the one I titled “Morning Coffee”. It has many songs that make me smile, tap my feet or want to move around. That musical energy is great for morning (I’m not a morning person by nature)… and it can pull me out of a slump to get me on track to have a great meeting, be more productive, or just make my day a bit brighter.

Business isn’t all making plans and executing them. Sometimes it takes extra effort or a boost of inspiration to get us over the hump. Use the tools you have but also learn to get more tools by exposing yourself to new ideas and ways of doing things. Surround yourself by people and things and experiences that motivate you to move forward, not just look backward. Life moves forward, time moves forward. Growing and stretching is natural. Learn from the past, live in the present and look forward to a wonderful future.

What do you use to inspire or motivate yourself during the day? Leave a comment below and tell me, I’d love to know.

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You can follow Eric @pitchforsuccess on Twitter or on Facebook at PitchforSuccess

To get information on sharing this article or having Eric speak to your group email questions@pitchforsuccess.com

Building a business is a lot like Legos

Mason and Grampa
Mason showing Grampa how to have fun.

My grandson, Mason, is 3 1/2 years old and he loves to play with Legos.

When he comes over for a visit that’s usually the first thing out of the toy box. Needless to say Mason is getting more Legos this year as his present from Grampa. I’m looking forward to sitting on the floor and watching his imagination unfold later this week.

As I play with Mason on the floor I am struck by the similarities in our play and what I do every day in running my business. Both activities involve lots of creativity. Playing with Legos may be lower stakes, but the process is very similar to the way I solve issues on the job. Building a business is not so very different than building a space ship or castle.

First on the list of similarities is that you have to decide what you want to build.

Here is where Mason and I differ in style. I like to just start putting things together and see what ideas spring to mind. The creation evolves as I go. Mason likes to decide in advance what he’s making. “This is where the beanstalk goes,” he stated not long ago, clearing all the bricks from a spot on the carpet. He then proceeded to build a towering edifice reaching into his imaginary sky. Then the boy figurine, named Raphael after his beloved Ninja Turtles, climbed up to the giant’s castle, “to fight bad guys,” as Mason informed me. And he kicked some serious butt too.

As with bad guy butt kicking it is important to understand what business we want to build. Whether you began your business with intention, knowing what you wanted it to look like, or whether you began doing what you loved and “found yourself” in business is not really important. Businesses change over time. Many people find that the business they started out with is not the business they currently run. The key is to understand what business you are really in and to be intentional about how you build it moving forward.

That requires you to understand your business model (the why, what, how and who of your company… that I call your “Authentic Identity”). You also need to be able to define your best customers, even if you don’t have any yet. I’m not just talking about someone with money looking to buy what you sell… but the customer who is the best all around fit for what you do and how you do it. Once you know that it’s important to know what sets you apart from your competitors… your unique value proposition… and you need to know how to articulate it to the world. These become the building blocks of your company.

The second similarity is this… you have to know what resources are available to you when you build.

When Mason and I play we have a limited number of bricks and pieces to work with. This means if we want to build an airplane we must fashion the fuselage, wings and the tail from what we have. It makes for some interesting aircraft I assure you. The advantage we have on the living room floor is that they all fly flawlessly around the room and land anywhere. Imagination does have some advantages after all.

In business we likewise must work with what we have. Many times limited resources prevent us from doing what we’d like to do with our company. More capital, more people, more equipment or more time would always be welcomed. However, it is sometimes the lack of resources that drives innovation. Not having something that would easily solve a problem creates a need for us to think outside the box, to improvise.

Like Mason’s Lego planes we often must do what we do with the pieces parts on hand. Take heart though, some of the most ingenious innovation has happened under just such limitations. Ask any successful entrepreneur and you will almost certainly find they had to tweak some things along the way. Flexibility is crucial in running a business. This is why understanding your business is so important. You need to know what pieces you do have… so you can figure out new and exciting ways to put them together to achieve your goals.

The third similarity is this… sometimes you need a little help.

I have a bit more experience in building with Legos than Mason does (at least 40 years… give or take). So I am less likely to get stuck, and frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. He is still at the age where structural engineering skills are being learned. Case in point, the train that was far too wide to stay upright, the building that was way too tall and skinny not to break in half.Even those two pesky bricks that don’t seem to want to stay together can thwart his building projects.

These are times when Mason turns to me to lend a hand. I  ask some questions about the intent of the project, size up the dilemma, evaluate the approach and offer suggestions. I become his co-creator. Taking my lead from him I assist him to build whatever his imagination dreams up. And all is right with the world again.

There are times in running a business when it’s prudent to bring in someone with a bit more experience. To hire someone to help you figure out a better way to do something can help you out of a jam… even if that jam is how to continue growing when things appear good. Knowing when it is time to call in the cavalry can be tricky, but eventually almost all successful business owners get help. The key is to know what kind of help you really need. Knowing your business inside and out can help this.

This is something I have struggled with too. My answer was to develop the Authentic Identity and Perfect Client Profile to help me see exactly where my business was now, and who I needed to be reaching in order to grow. It was by doing that work that I determined I needed marketing help… specifically someone who understands public relations.

So, I hired Elysa Leonard of Splash Communications, a marketing expert who specialized in PR, to help me out. Maybe you’ve seen the results recently. If not, you will. This is just a part of an entire strategy I’ve built to grow my business. You can do the same. It’s all about intentional action. Sometimes you need to have someone with a fresh set of eyes and the right experience or skills to help you figure out what you need to do next.

Hopefully you will be able to spend some time unplugged from your everyday business life during the holidays. I also hope that you will get the chance to play… and maybe, just maybe, that can help you when you dive back in to build some beanstalks of your own.

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You can follow Eric @pitchforsuccess on Twitter or on Facebook at PitchforSuccess

To get information on sharing this article or having Eric speak to your group email questions@pitchforsuccess.com

The Key to Engaging an Audience

Presenting to a GroupA friend of mine called me in a panic the other day. She had to give a presentation at work and she was petrified. I asked her what the problem was and she replied, “what if I’m not interesting?” She was worried that she was not well known in her company and so people wouldn’t be willing to listen to what she had to say if she wasn’t outstanding.

This is not the first time I’ve had this conversation with someone. As a presentation coach I work with lots of people who are nervous about public speaking. The good news is that my friend didn’t have to be some celebrity speaking to get people to listen to her. She just had to be good at being herself in front of the room. You don’t have to be a personality to have personality when you present. You do need to keep your audience interested and engaged. Just being natural and not trying to be someone you’re not is the real trick to a first class presentation.

When I was teaching classes to IT engineers for Cisco I learned some important lessons about teaching adults. A good friend of mine, who was a master instructor in the Air Force, explained to me one day that if you can engage your class they will take care of learning the information themselves. This was a real revelation for me. All I really needed to figure out was how to keep them interested and participating for the full week of the course. Since many of my students didn’t really want to be there, and the content I was teaching couldn’t be changed, that could be a bit of a challenge. However, it was a challenge I was willing to take on.

From that point on I committed myself to paying attention to how my classes reacted to different ways of presenting the course material. I began trying new things to keep the class interesting. I could not deviate in the content I was teaching, but I could vary how I delivered the information. I was looking for the most effective and most interesting ways to keep the class with me the entire time.

I used videos during breaks, I played music, I would demonstrate concepts and processes by drawing diagrams. I had the class interactively tell me how to draw the diagrams to build the different systems we were learning about. I encouraged people to experiment during the lab sections. Try a certain configuration and see what happened, then report it to the whole class. I supported them in asking lots and lots of questions, both of me, and of each other. This created a dynamic, engaging environment that was fun for everyone in the room. That included me.

There’s nothing worse than presenting something that you find boring. If you think it’s stupid your audience is certainly going to see that and they just might think it’s stupid too. So finding a way to be interested in whatever it is you’re presenting only helps make you a better presenter. Find something that you think is particularly relevant, eye opening or exciting about your presentation and emphasize those sections. That will go along way to helping your audience be interested as well. When you’re excited they are more likely to be curious what you’re excited about. Emotion is catchy. Use that fact in your delivery.

There are a lot of ways to accomplish this. You just need to find one or two techniques that work well for you. It helps if those techniques match your personality. If humor is your thing then be funny. Don’t be afraid to make the audience laugh. If you are not comfortable with humor then for goodness sake do not try telling jokes. It will come off is disingenuous and potentially turn off your audience. Your delivery needs to be consistent with who you are in real life. Authenticity is important for you to be seen as credible and believable. However, you do need to keep in mind that you’re going to have a mix of personalities in your audience. So you can’t just do a presentation that you alone would like. That will be too limiting and will only be interesting to the people just like you. So you do have to learn to mix it up a little bit.

The biggest thing that everyone needs to know when you’re giving a presentation is to be clear what story you are telling. Humans communicate through telling stories and a presentation is just a specific kind of story. Like a fairy tale, a business presentation needs to have a beginning a middle and an end. It needs to go somewhere. By that I mean that we need to be able to follow where you’re leading us, the audience, so we can discover things along the way. Just throwing a bunch of facts and figures and data up on a slide is not telling a story. It may be important information but we may not see it as particularly interesting without a narrative about why it’s important, where it came from, or what we need to do with it.

When you need to give a presentation use these factors to help you prepare and focus on keeping your audience interested. Engage them while you are speaking and be authentic in your attitude towards what you are talking about. Tell them a story about why this is important and what you want them to do with this information. Use interesting pictures, videos, sounds or props to help make the information relevant to them. Work on ways to keep them engaged and actively listening to what you’re saying.

Doing some or all of these things will virtually guarantee that your audience will respond positively to whatever it is you’re talking about. It will also help you feel more comfortable and more confident in front of the room. Knowing that you’re giving them something that they will want, in a way they can engage with, helps you get over any nervousness you have before you start. Following these guidelines, anyone really can give an interesting presntation… even you.