Characters from CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother”
Barney Stinson from CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” makes introductions look easy. And in actuality, you’d think introductions and referrals should be extremely simple, but unfortunately, they can be utterly complicated. I’ve always valued relationships believing that success can be attributed to the people who put us in position to “win”. In the professional world, leveraging relationships is “networking”, and the greatest networkers are less about who they connect with as much as who they connect to who.
I’m going with the assumption that by reading this you already understand the opportunities networking and connecting affords. But a few examples anyways:
  • Connecting to others can open doors to the right customers you’ve had your eyes on for months.
  • Connecting to the organizer and chairperson of a tradeshow may get you introduced and in-the-know of everyone else attending the tradeshow. They are, after all, the common point.
  • Connecting with your old college buddy’s company’s Vice President can land you your dream job.

For so many reasons, I love introducing the good people I know with other good people. However, it can be tricky business, especially when others don’t value relationships quite like I do. So here are some simple thoughts on introductions and networking:

  1. It’s your reputation and your relationship. The people you introduce together are representatives of you vis-à-vis the people you associate with. Be cognizant of this. If you’re one of the people being introduced by someone, be considerate of the person making the connection.
  2. Are all parties equally interested in meeting? Not everyone is interested or “have the time” for new connections. What you’ll find when making connections is that there really needs to be hooks/ motivations for both parties to be connected together. As the person making an introduction, you should be clear why you want to make the introduction (explicit motivation).
  3. Ensure both parties are able to and committed to connect. I remember an instance where a new connection (“requestor”) wanted an introduction to a staff member (“requestee”) at my grad school. I sent a quick intro email, and within an hour, the requestee sent an email to the requestor excited to connect. The requestor, though, went silent. No response for weeks citing “really busy”. *Palm, meet forehead.* After that debacle, before I make an introduction, I now explicitly ask both the requestor and requestee separately if they’re interested in connecting with the other and if they can be responsive within two days.
  4. Help spark the introduction. If you’re making the introduction, you’re the catalyst. Remember those parties back in the day when the shy boy is too shy to talk to the shy girl? Try to nudge-start the conversation. This isn’t necessary for all introductions, but sometimes, it’s appropriate to ask one person to introduce him/ herself – I like the requestor to start the conversation.
  5. Know how, why, when to ask for introductions. If you’re ever looking for an introduction to someone, nail down the purpose, share it with the mutual connection, and get feedback if that works. Again, it’s her connection so asking for her feedback ensures she’s comfortable and she’s more bought into connecting.
  6. Warm is always better than cold. Some entrepreneurs have a “me against the world” mentality and don’t want to leverage relationships for introductions. Perhaps they like the challenge of thinking they can build something great on their own. However, anyone in sales will tell you warm trumps cold any day of the week. Use your connections.
  7. Thanks.People are taking the time out of their days to either set you up to meet that person you’ve been longing to meet, or you’re meeting someone who could change the trajectory of your company. Thank everyone involved for making the introduction individually.  
(image source: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Czi-rTRRhsE/UwYNolZvcJI/AAAAAAAAFyw/WNss2XELITw/s1600/have_you_met_ted_2013-08-01_23-44-40.gif)
Introductions shouldn’t be hard, but I’ve been burned plenty of times to know that introductions can be tricky. I’ve also met some great people benefiting personally and professionally through introductions so it’s clear the power of relationships. At the end of the day, I’m more cautious of making introductions, and it’s shown to create better introductions for both sides.

As all relationships showcase and to the first point above, connections and introductions are about trust – trust in individuals representing themselves and you accurately and appropriately.

What are some of your tips for making introductions both what to do and what not to do? What traits does a person have that you’d have no problems making introductions for?
“Hi, Daryl… Daryl Lu. I’m one of the few, the proud, the native Atlantan.” (image source: http://femgineer.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/networking.jpg)
It’s amazing how many interesting people are around me. I’m not even talking about the people I truly know like family, friends, work colleagues, etc., but the people I just happen to run into at Starbucks, through happen-stance introductions, etc. I’m wearing earbuds now, but it’s truly amazing when you unplug at times and say hello to the person next to you. If you’re an entrepreneur or aspiring to be, it’s one of the practices I suggest to others – get comfortable just talking to others.
My friend recently shared an article from the Art of Manliness – Be More Memorable: How to Better Answer the 3 Questions You Always Get Asked When Meeting Someone New. It’s one of those posts that reminds me of why you should introduce yourself sometimes to the random person next to you. That is, you can hear about another’s story as well as refine your own. In the world of startups and the constant barrage of information and social media, it’s good to separate yourself from the pack by having genuine conversations with actual, memorable stories.
Feel like it’s all wishy-washy? Yeah, maybe, but check out a little about the people I’ve recently met just in the past couple weeks:
  • Allen Graber A local entrepreneur who has successfully navigated an exit in the late 90’s. Since, he’s a founding member of the Atlanta Technology Angels. He’s on the Board of startups, invests in many startups, and even started an accelerator program here in Atlanta to help early stage tech companies. All this, and he’s got a great family with two kids and a wife. I’ve had the privilege of meeting with him now a few times, and each time, I’ve enjoyed talking with him and hearing what’s made him successful. Definitely a great person I can now count on as a friend and mentor.
  • Stephanie Dylewski An educational consultant helping students position themselves for the right college(s)… arguably, their futures. She didn’t know it before, but she’s in a startup. In an early stage company with two employees with her and her CEO, she’s got to wear multiple hats to support the growth of the company. She left her days as an interior designer to pursue her passions working with kids and schools (put that undergrad psychology major to use!). She also blogs for the company Within Reach Education and admits that she’s been uncomfortable. However, she writes well, and it’s exciting to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s growth. Now, she’s introducing me to her CEO and the CEO’s husband who’s also an entrepreneur just to brainstorm ideas to grow the business and other thoughts. Pretty cool.
Stephaanie Dylewski of Within Reach Education
  • Jaime Benedetti Soccer coach over at a local university. Actually met him on the soccer field on Sunday, and ran into him at my local Starbucks. Very interesting to know he has a small financial firm Benedetti Gucer & Associates that enables him the latitude to pursue his passion in soccer.
  • Alan Honeycutt Co-founder and CTO of a startup called Yubixi – a friend discovery platform. How often do you move or you’re just looking for new friends now that you’re [many years] out of college and your social circle has shrunk? Yubixi helps connect you with people in the community with the same interests as you. Very new startup. I ran into him because these days when you see someone all geared up in Apple iDevices splayed all over the Starbucks table and earbuds in, there’s a good chance he’s an entrepreneur. So yeah, I just asked if he was working on a startup – I was right!
www.yubixi.com
  • Steve WalkerOwner of Crossfit Chamblee. Okay, I met Steve a while ago, but he’s sitting across from me, so I figure I could include him as one of the interesting people I’ve met just by happy serendipity. Real cool guy, and he’s constantly working on the WOD and working to improve the experience for his CrossFitters.
Steve Walker and Crossfit Chamblee

Anyways, it’s always good to just unplug and reach out your hand and introduce yourself to the person next to you. There are interesting people everywhere who could be just interesting to meet, or could be more serendipitous from a grander vision. You’d never know unless you get yourself out there, and practice your personal story.

What are your thoughts about random connections and just free networking? How do you introduce yourself to others? Who’s someone interesting you met recently?

Last Friday, I had the chance to sit down with several successful entrepreneurs over lunch.  (Successful in this case being “happy” about their previous startups’ outcomes either sold or otherwise while under their leadership.)  Over the lunch, I remember introducing some of the entrepreneurs to each other, but after that, I feel as if I might have spoke too much.  You ever get that feeling that you were a bit of a chatter box?

That evening before bed, I felt a bit guilty about it, and as I often do, reflected on my day’s events — what happened, what did I like, what didn’t I like, and what could I have done better.  I realize now that I’ve come to this point where a cocktail of confidence, passion, and experiential exuberance mixed too strong can be interpreted as arrogance and rigidity.  The experiential exuberance, in this case represents, is the energy I have from lessons learned through building a startup and other “wise” events through life.  No one actually said I was arrogant, but I felt that I could have been interpreted that way — if that’s my own feeling, then perhaps that’s how it was perceived.

While brainstorming stopgates for the future, I read a fitting article on LinkedIn — “Finding Strength in Humility” by Tony Schwartz from the NY Times’ Dealbook.  As you can imagine, the article talked about the importance of exercising humility as a leader.  Too often, leaders exude the “positives” of strength, courage and decisiveness without the balancing act of tempering those qualities from being excessive.  Some thoughts melding the article, my past, and what happened for the future:

  • Too much of a good thing (like confidence, tenacity) can be a bad thing.  Exercise patience and know it’s okay to let others not only speak, but to share their thoughts and actually listen.
  • It’s okay to say, “I don’t know — I’ll get back to you on that.”  No, seriously, get back to someone on that.  I was recently on a call for one of my consulting projects, and I was asked a question to which I spent a minute on the call fumbling through documents on my end to figure it out.  I should’ve just told the client I’d get back to them.
  • You have two ears and one mouth.  Heard this saying before?  If you’ve surrounded yourself with people smarter than you, you should do well to sit and listen to what they have to say.
  • Do speak up, and pass the baton.  Obviously, sitting in a group means so little if you don’t say anything at all.  You still want to leave an impression, after all.  Instead, just be sure to speak up, and pass the baton for others to talk.
  • Introduce others.  If you’re introducing new people, make sure they get a chance to converse with one another.  Networking is more about how you connect others and less about how you connect with others.
  • Read the faces.  As you talk to people in the group, be sure to gauge everyone’s facial expressions.  You may find others who are wanting to chime in, but may feel uncomfortable to do so.  Similar to the above points, try to ease those people into the conversation.  They’ll feel thrilled that you’d help them in, and you’ll feel great for getting them in.
It’s clear to me that I still have a ways to go to be an inspiring and effective leader.  Not just in groups, but I should start exercising humility even when I’m alone.  Confidence can be a tricky thing, but as an entrepreneur, especially, I feel there is a more careful balancing act of being confident in your startup and your capabilities and knowing that there are still ways to better your product, your skills.  Genuineness through humility can go a long way to not only communicating and inspiring others to follow your vision, but to buy your product, or simply have a friendly lunch.
At the end of the day, it’s being able to call on all these different tools you gather through your journeys to more effectively communicate to the audience in front of you.
How have you negotiated the trapeze of confidence vs. over-confidence in communicating with others?  What are some other tips when in groups of people that I didn’t include?