I woke up this Sunday morning with a stunning revelation: I haven’t gone clubbing for over a year. Dang! Back when I was a young lad at the tender age of 25 (haha), I used to spend my Friday nights in the hallowed halls of butterfactory and Royal Room, surrounded by drunk 18-30 year olds stumbling around me to the thumping beats of 50 cent. I know right, totally classy.
Regardless of whether you’re at a club, a corporate lunch, a conference, or a party, you might notice an interesting phenomenon prevalent in all social events: Whenever people find that they have no one to talk to, they’d pull out their phones so they’d look busy.
We all do this, and I find it totally fascinating. Let’s be honest here – there is nothing on Facebook at 12.45am that could possibly warrant your undivided attention. Yet, whenever we’re faced with social situations we’re not comfortable with, we resort to behaviours like these because it makes us feel safe.
The truth is, not all of us are completely comfortable with talking to new people. We don’t want to deal with the awkwardness if it doesn’t go well, and we certainly don’t want to appear sleazy.
But think about the possibilities we could get if we overcame our barriers towards meeting new people. Could it open up new business opportunities, career prospects, or give us experiences we could never get on our own? Could it give us fresh perspectives on a project we’re stuck on? Could it help us to make more friends?
Yes, networking really is one of the best ways to live a rich life. As the old saying goes, “It’s not just WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.” So in this post, I want to share a simple framework which I personally use to meet new people, even if they’re a lot more senior than I am. Read on.
Why I Wanted to Meet Frank
When the folks at FRANK by OCBC invited me to their #FRANKturns3 birthday bash, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been a longtime fan of FRANK ever since hearing about how they create their products from the ground-up, using customer research on the psychology and behaviour of youths and young working adults.
Since I’m a weirdo who blogs about personal finance for young executives, the entire premise of FRANK excited the heck out of me. Personally, I think their products are especially relevant for young professionals (I opened an OCBC 360 account and applied for a FRANK card a couple of weeks ago), and I wanted to learn more about the insights they had from talking to so many young people out there.
(I’ll write a future post on FRANK specifically, but in the meantime you should totally check out some of their features at frankbyocbc.com)
For their third birthday bash, FRANK rolled out a new campaign based on four pillars of personal finance, namely: Save, Spend, Protect and Invest, which pretty much covers all the basic aspects that 90% of young people need to know.
So anyway, back to the topic. For their third birthday bash, FRANK invited a group of local bloggers including yours truly to meet with their staff at their new, tastefully-designed store at orchardgateway.
Since these “influencer” events usually involve bloggers taking like 200 #selfies around their store, I was going to have to weave through them and find a way to naturally meet the people behind FRANK.
But first, let me clarify that I’m not some “master networker” by any measure. In fact, I’m quite an introvert – talk to me when I’m having breakfast in the morning and you’ll be greeted with a few disgruntled grunts. Snort snort.
I also didn’t wanna be one of those guys with slicked-back hair walking around giving out business cards to everyone. Gross. Nope – when I network, I prefer to focus on creating a genuine connection with just one or two people, and then seeing what I can learn and offer them.
So here are 4 hacks I use to naturally meet new people – even high-profile ones – without ever being sleazy. Yes, my methods might require a little bit more work than usual, but you’ll be able to use them at any social event and establish a genuine connection without ever feeling awkward.
And since I’m such a big fan of FRANK, I decided to use their Save, Spend, Protect and Invest framework to help you remember them. Here goes:
SAVE information about the people you’d like to meet
Before accepting any invitations, be clear about who you’d like to meet. The CEO? The CMO? The product executives? Don’t try to meet everyone, just decide on 2-3 people whom you think you can have a real conversation with.
Next, do a little bit of research on them online. LinkedIn is by far my favourite resource for professional meetings, but there’s also blogs, news about their company, reviews about the product, etc. (But no, please don’t randomly add them on Facebook and start stalking all their pictures. That’s just creepy.) Write down anything you find interesting on a basic note-taking app on your phone (I use Evernote).
Why? Because I’ve found that most people love talking about what they do. Imagine that you got chatting with a senior executive and after awhile, you asked,
“Hey, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I understand that you were a product manager at XYZ, but later on you switched to finance at ABC. That’s quite an unusual career move – why did you choose to take that path?”
What do you think his reaction would be? 9 times out of 10, he usually ends up thinking, “YES! This person is actually interested in what I do!” And bam – you’re off to the races.
SPEND time getting to know them
When you go to a fancy restaurant, do you demand for the main course be served now, gobble everything up, throw down some money, and leave? Of course not. You take it slow. You have some wine, you ask the waiter what’s good, you start off with the appetisers, etc.
It’s the same with networking. It’s generally weird to jump straight into business from the start, so spend some time building a relationship first. DON’T go in with an agenda hoping to “get” something out of the meeting. Instead, talk to them like how you would to your friends and get to know them first.
Remember that even the most high-profile senior executives have families, hobbies, and favourite books. What do they do on weekends? How old are their kids? What school did they go to? Spend time chatting and establishing a genuine connection first before talking about “business-y things”.
PROTECT them against sleaze
Most important people are naturally wary against strangers who randomly come up to them at events. Why? Because they often get approached by sleazy “networkers” trying to hard-sell them, and this happens way too often.
But you’re not going to make the same mistake. Instead, try to spend 80% of your conversation talking about them, not you. (If you SAVED information about them, this step should come easy.) Remember that you’re not there to impress them, you’re there to establish a relationship and learn from them.
Take away their fear of you turning out to be just another sleazy networker. If you approach the conversation genuinely wanting to learn about them and not trying to force your opinion, they’ll warm up to you.
INVEST in the relationship
The last step is by far the most important. You’ve established a connection, found some common ground, and maybe you’re even hitting it off. Now, think about how you can help THEM out.
If you talked about say, technology in Silicon Valley with the person you met, is there an interesting article you could send him? Is there someone you could introduce that he would love to meet? Can you do anything for him that could enhance his business?
Remember that networking is always a two-way street, even if the person you met is more senior or experienced than you are. So many people approach networking as a way to TAKE something from a relationship. but if you can actually GIVE back or add value in some way, that puts you way ahead of everyone else.
What I Learnt From Meeting Frank
I had a great time meeting the folks behind FRANK, and what impressed me was just how personable and excited they all were – even the senior executives. So while this post is all about 4 hacks to meet new people, understand that networking isn’t about pulling out some stealthy “tactic” out of your pocket to impress someone. Instead, it’s about creating connections, seeing how you can help them out, and having a great time.
Full disclosure: FRANK asked a bunch of us to blog about the event and their four pillars, but they didn’t pay me anything for this post. They did give us a bunch of cool stuff at their event though, as well as free champagne. Woot!