I’m a more successful entrepreneur today because of the relationships I started developing 20 years ago while I was in college. When I was invited to speak earlier this year at my alma mater, BYU-Idaho, on the topic of networking, I jumped at the chance. As I collected tips I had received over the years and researched scores of articles to see what I had missed, I stumbled onto venture capitalist Chris Fralic’s blog post How to Become Insanely Well-Connected, from which I borrowed inspiration not only for some of the tips I shared during my talk, but for the title of this article.
I added “shy” because I was painfully shy when I was young, and I still feel awkward at networking events. Here are 10 of the tips I shared with students on how to be successful at networking, even if you struggle with a bit of bashfulness.
1. Get to know your professors.
Start building your network by talking to your professors in their offices. At the beginning of the semester, make an appointment with each one. Your stated purpose will be “to know how to get the most out of this class.” When you meet with the professor tell him or her “I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I’d like to ask you three questions. First, what do you enjoy about teaching this class? Second, how can I guarantee myself a good grade in this class. Third, independent of what grade I get, how can I get the most out of this class?”
I did this with many of my professors. When I returned this year, one of those professors remembered me well, even though we had not communicated for the two decades since I graduated.
Professors know a lot of people. Former students turned successful entrepreneurs or managers sometimes approach their favorite professors to ask, “Who are some of your star students I should consider hiring?” Wouldn’t you like to be top of mind?
2. Play the student card.
Successful entrepreneurs who have already “made it” love to give advice to young people. It’s an easy “in.” Make sure an introduction includes the statement “I’m a student at…” This especially works well when networking with graduates of your own school. When I was a student I reached out to David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue, and was able to secure a 30-minute interview. How did I do it? I made sure to mention BYU, knowing that David Neeleman is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has ties to the school, which is run by the LDS Church. I know this caught his attention because the first thing he said when we got on the phone was to ask me how the BYU football team was doing.
3. Find common interests.
When reaching out to someone, always do your research to learn a few things about them, find an interest you have in common, and ask them about it to break the ice. If you struggle to find a common interest, become interested in something they have experience with by researching it and coming up with some questions on the topic.
4. Ask for introductions the right way.
Fralic recommends if you email to get an introduction, that you create a “self-contained forwardable email.” This email “has a subject line customized for the end recipient and quickly explains who you are, what you want and why.” This makes it easy for the person you’re asking to make the introduction to quickly forward your email along to the person you want to meet.
5. Drop names.
There’s nothing pretentious about dropping names as long as you’re doing it legitimately. When I was writing my book, Chief Marketing Officers at Work, I interviewed 29 CMOs from companies like Spotify, The Home Depot, GE, PayPal and Target. Many of the CMOs I interviewed signed on because of the other names I had already secured to participate, and I used those names liberally in my pitches. Every time I got a new name signed on, I added it to the list of names in my pitch.
6. Create a project.
Normally I’m very socially awkward at conferences. I have a hard time striking up conversations with people I don’t already know, especially those who are well-known. When I attended the Content Marketing Conference in Boston this year, I created a project. I decided to collect content marketing tips from the speakers and put them together into a blog post. I contacted them ahead of time to let them know I would be doing this, so when I approached them at the conference, they already knew who I was and were expecting me. It was very comfortable, and I made 10 times the number of contacts I would have made otherwise. Plus, I had a lot more fun.
If you’re shy like me, wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to talk to anyone, you could just sit and listen to them instead? You can! In fact, listening is the best way to develop a great relationship. The problem is that shyness leads to nervousness, and when we’re nervous we tend to talk and worse, to ramble.
Instead, ask lots of questions and just keep the other person talking, and listen intently. As they talk, demonstrate that you’ve heard exactly what they said, and constantly encourage them to continue. They’ll remember you more if you let them talk the whole time than if you talk the whole time. It’s counter-intuitive, but a fact.
8. Be humble.
Nobody is impressed when you talk about yourself and everything you’ve accomplished. They are impressed if you listen well, don’t talk about yourself, and then they find out later that you have a list of impressive accomplishments and never mentioned them.
9. Be grateful.
What can you give the person who has everything and needs nothing? Your gratitude.
10. Network with the greats by reading their books.
Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, a business leader and motivational speaker, once said “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
You now know how to meet people and get to know them, even if you’re shy. But many of the greatest people you could ever meet aren’t around anymore — but their books are. Make your heroes your mentors by reading their books. Get to “know” them to the point where you hear them speaking to you and giving you advice, coaching you along. This is similar to the “mastermind” concept promoted by the classic Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
I have received much through networking, even though LinkedIn didn’t exist when I was starting out as a student. Learn to network right now, as a student, even if you’re shy, and the opportunities that come your way will be even greater.