Building Relationships: Never Miss an Opportunity to Connect

Have you ever showed up at a conference, tradeshow, or networking event and not felt ready to make the most of the opportunity? Or walked out of a happy hour with a bunch of your target customers only to leave empty-handed?  

One of the characteristics I have observed about the most successful leaders and businesspeople is that they never waste an opportunity to connect with customers, partners, suppliers, and colleagues as well as with new people they meet at events and social gatherings.

Though Woody Allen said “80% of success is just showing up” – successful leaders do more than just show up. So what exactly do they do?

Below are four practices that can help you radically foster both deeper connections as well as maximize each opportunity to benefit your personal and professional success. Give them a try and you will soon be bounding into every conversation and will see a dramatic uptick in the results you achieve. As an added benefit, you might even find yourself having more a bit more fun!

  • Identify and Leverage Your Strengths: One of the foundational aspects of developing relationships or maximizing one’s potential is a focus on strengths. As a proponent of a Strengths-based approach to developing executives and high potentials, identifying individual and team strengths provides a lens to have a deeper, developmental conversation and creates a foundation for growth. Two of my favorite assessments are Gallup’s StrengthsFinder and PSP’s TotalSDI. Both assessments will help uncover your top Strengths, but TotalSDI also looks at the motives that describe the “why” of what you do. Understanding your strengths and being able to apply them is critical to your individual development as well as enhancing your interpersonal interactions. Calling on your Strengths is helpful to inform the best way to approach an event and also how to tailor your communication to maximize its impact. For example, if one of your top strengths is “Competition”, try establishing a personal scorecard for each event where you set goals and track progress around each (and compete with a friend!). Be sure your goals are specific AND aimed at your overall objectives. Collecting 5 random business cards will not do you any good. Rather, a better goal would be to meet 3 potential referral partners, connectors, and prospects who you were able to discern would be at the event ahead of time.
  • Do Your Homework: If it is not obvious by now, doing your homework ahead of any event or meeting is one of the surefire ways to unleash greater results and ensure you don't miss out on an opportunity to connect. Try conducting even quick Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook research about the people who will be in attendance and identify some of the challenges that their organizations or industry are facing. Also, look for common points of interest such as schools attended, past employers, and philanthropic interests as well as hobbies or passions. Knowing more about the people in attendance as well as their organizations will prevent you from flying blind into a conversation and also focus your efforts on the people who have the greatest ability to move the needle on your success.
  • Find Ways to Be of Service and Lead with Generosity: Once you have done your homework and know who will be at the event or meeting as well as a bit about them, it’s time to find ways to be of service to individual attendees. As Keith Ferrazzi discussed in Never Eat Alone, one of the easiest (and often best) ways to connect with someone is to lead with generosity. Start by looking for what you can do to help out the person with whom you are hoping to connect. What expertise or experience can you offer? Who in your network can you make a mutual introduction to? What book or article is relevant to the biggest problem they are facing in their personal or professional life? The key is to be generous and focus on how you can be of service to them and not focus on what you will gain from the relationship.
  • Focus on Your Most Authentic Self: Another tip to maximizing each interaction is to focus on being your most authentic self. While it might sound a bit clichéd, by sidestepping the drive to be what you think others want you to be and instead focusing on you and your own unique experiences and strengths, you gain more out of every interaction. Being authentic starts with having open, meaningful conversations. Instead of walking into an event and leading with your credentials and the logo on your business card, try offering up the challenges you are facing. Expressing vulnerability is another way to be more authentic and will open up more opportunities to connect. For example, if you are at Dreamforce to try to break into cloud computing, don't pretend you have all of the answers, just acknowledge you are still learning about the industry and are hungry to learn more. Projecting your most authentic self and expressing some vulnerability will yield more meaningful conversations—and better yet— create the space to find the answers.

Now go and take on the rest of your week and see if you can apply one or more of the tips above to maximize the value of every interaction. Give it a try and be sure to share your results as well as other tips that you have found to be successful. Good luck!