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Monday, May 16, 2011

“Building a Strong Network Through…Listening?” | BNI

Business cards? Check. Name badge? Check. Through the double doors and into the room full of unfamiliar faces. Scan once or twice. ”Oh please, ” you think. “Let me see a familiar face.” One more scan, and no such luck. What typically happens next is that you decide to head to one of “The Three B’s”: the Bar, the Buffet, or the Bathroom. “Ahh”, you think to yourself. “a minute to gather myself together.”

Sound familiar? Here’s the really funny thing. Most of the people in that room – honestly, most of them, feel the exact same way. So what is it that makes it so easy for some people to network effectively while others struggle? Often, we think it’s a dynamic personality or simply possessing the elusive “schmoozer gene”. But I believe it is something else, entirely.

Yes, it is wonderful to have a comfort level with groups of people and if you happen to possess a dynamic personality, that doesn’t hurt. But because most people there feel much the same way that you do, what they are all really looking for is someone to make the experience easier for them. In my opinion, the most important quality of the best networkers is that they are excellent listeners. It’s that simple.

If you ask a room full of people “What is everyone’s favorite subject to talk about?” 99% of the room will respond with “themselves”. And they would be correct. So for you introverts out there that don’t think you have a shot at being as effective at networking as your dynamic counterparts, now you know how to make a meaningful mark and expand your networks exponentially. Listening is an amazing skill that can transform a stranger into a friend.

Here are a few goals to set for your next networking event that will help you hone this priceless skill and make the process painless:

  1. Set a goal. Decide to meet three new people that evening. Once you’ve done that, reward yourself with something you enjoy – meet a friend for dinner, go to a movie, head home to relax and read a good book.
  2. Vow to ask questions. We already know that people want to talk about themselves, and if you allow them to do that and really listen, they will walk away thinking that you are just the most amazing person in the room!
  3. While you are listening to each of these three people, be sure to give them your full attention. No looking over their shoulder, looking at your phone or watch. Be sure they feel that they have your undivided attention.
  4. Ask them how you would recognize a good referral for them in your day-to-day routine. Then listen again for the answer.
  5. Thank them for their time and as you walk away, make a few notes on the back of their business card so that you can remember details about that conversation.
  6. Follow up the next day with a brief note (handwritten makes the biggest impact, but if you can’t do that, at least an e-mail) and reference some details from the conversation the night before. Be sure not to tell them to call you if they ever need your services – that’s not the purpose of this correspondence. Save that for later. This is about them.
We are all just more polished versions of our high-school selves. We still have insecurities, tend to find comfort in our cliques and are terrified of not fitting in. By focusing on the other person, listening, making them comfortable, learning about their goals and challenges, we feel more like a host than a guest. It puts us in a position of helping – and who would reject someone trying to help them? Helping others and being a good listener are qualities that people identify with being considerate and genuine. Being genuine creates the platform of trust, and we all want to do business with those whom we trust!

Sandy Donovan is the Executive Director of BNI for Palm Beach and Southeast Florida. She is also the Executive Director of Network University, which she founded in 2009. As a contributing author to two New York Times Best-Selling books, Masters of Networking and Masters of Sales, Donovan has had the opportunity to share her knowledge and experience with a global audience. She is a professional speaker and trainer, and lives in Palm Beach County with her husband, John, and their two children.

With over 5,500 active chapters, and over 100,000 members throughout every populated continent worldwide, BNI is the largest and most successful business referral organization in the world. BNI was founded in 1985 by Dr. Ivan Misner and the organization, which allows only one person from each profession to join a chapter, offers members the opportunity to share ideas, contacts, and most importantly, referrals. Last year alone, members of BNI passed 6.2 million referrals, generating 2.6 billion dollars’ worth of business.

For more information on BNI, please visit or call BNI Headquarters at 909.608.7575.

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The Emergence of the Relationship Economy features TNNWC Founder, Adam J. Kovitz as a contributing author and contains some of his early work on The Laws of Relationship Capital. The book is available in hardcopy and e-book formats. With a forward written by Doc Searls (of Cluetrain Manifesto fame), it is considered a "must read" for anyone responsible for the strategic direction of their business. If you would like to purchase your own copy, please click the image above.


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