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Don't Just Network, Make Friends
by Scott A. Meyers, Executive Vice President
Every workday I receive an Associations Now Daily News, a collection of articles from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). This morning, Friday, March 1, one of the articles caught my eye, “Help Your Attendees Make Friends – Not Contacts” and I found it especially timely. With the Spring Meeting coming soon, the article made me think about ICHP’s past years’ efforts to build more networking into the Annual Meeting and maybe in the future, the Spring Meeting. Unfortunately the Spring Meeting will be over when you read this but to that point, we don’t have a true networking session built into the meeting’s schedule anyway.
Samantha Whitehorne, the articles author, was stirred by an article she read on CNBC.com earlier in the week titled “If You Want to Be Successful, Don’t Network – Do This Instead”, which talked about doing more than just collecting business cards from others and it reminded her of a practice her first boss was dedicated to whenever she attended a meeting. The short version of that story was that her boss would not only collect business cards at meetings she attended, but she would make notes on that person’s card. Then after the meeting she would follow-up with the three people she felt most connected to during the meeting after a week or two. She made close friends and solid business contacts that way.
That’s a great lesson and a practice that anyone who wants to grow their network should aspire to emulate. But as I thought about our members, I remembered that we are pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy students. Maybe the new generations are changing our culture but for the most part, many of us tend to be introverts. How do you really connect with someone at a meeting that you don’t know at all, if you’re an introvert? Or if you’re a really clumsy or geeky extrovert?
So Samantha’s article reminded me of a lesson I learned nearly 28 years ago while working as the Assistant Director of Pharmacy at Sherman Hospital in Elgin. Sherman was big on staff development and I was lucky enough to be sent to a multi-week Dale Carnegie Management Seminar. The session on Communication spent a lot of time on “Asking the Right Questions.” The questions were aimed at getting to know a stranger without invading their personal space. Safe questions that would help you understand more about the individual you were working with, purchasing a product from, or just sitting next to on a long airplane flight.
I suspect that there are still Dale Carnegie courses out there, but I also assume they have changed a lot since 1991. So I hope I’m not infringing on copyrighted material but the instructors provide a system to remember the categories of safe questions to help you connect. The system, which is actually a picture, puts the categories in the order in which you should ask them. The picture is fairly vivid because I still remember most of it today. (I will admit, I still have my notes from that seminar and I found this section to make sure my memories were accurate.)
When you first meet a person - in any situation, but let’s focus on an ICHP networking event - you of course want to know their name. So the base of a picture you need to paint in your mind is a walnut name plate, like the one on your desk, providing you have one. (Yeah, like everybody has a walnut one. The only nameplate I ever got was a plastic one from LAG Drug Company [Look that one up Chicagoans!] when I graduated! So just bear with me and pretend we’re all Fortune 100 CEOs!)
On top of the nameplate, sits a house. The house represents questions about the person’s life like, “where do you live?”, “are you married?”, “do you have kids?”. Although in these days of personal privacy, I’m not sure these are that safe. But moving on, coming out of the chimney visualize a work glove. The work glove represents “Where do you work?”, and “What is your specific job?”. Chances are you may know these answers already if you’re speaking with a product or service vendor.
The work glove is holding an airplane. The airplane represents travel and questions like “Where was your last vacation?” or “Where would you travel to if you could go anywhere?”. Safe questions, sort of fun and while not necessarily why you are attending the networking event, they help lighten the discussion and don’t take much time. The next part of the picture is the final personal questions and they are represented by tennis rackets as the propellers on the airplane. Yes, some airplanes still use propellers but the tennis rackets represent hobbies or sports a person might enjoy. These questions are safe ones to use to get to know someone better or when you want to bug the snoring stranger in the next seat on a long flight.
Now back to the real purpose of tying this to the networking event and the final part of this picture you’re creating in your mind. As the plane flies through the sky, it is surrounded by pink light bulbs instead of clouds. Why pink? I have no idea and didn’t write that in the notes but probably so you won’t forget them.
The pink light bulbs represent ideas. Ideas from others to solve the problems you currently face on the topic of the table you selected or ideas you have that can solve the problems of those sitting with you.
Twenty-eight years later, and I remembered most of this without looking. Maybe because I use it often and because it has helped me get out of my shell a little more than I did before I knew it. But when I go to a meeting where I need to meet new people or when I find myself in a less than comfortable encounter with someone I don’t know, I lean on this and it works. What’s more, it has helped me make some friends that I can call or e-mail anytime that I wouldn’t have gotten to know without it.
So let me recap or in this case, repaint the picture succinctly:
I hope this helps and if you wake up some night from a crazy dream where King Kong is standing on your roof wearing work gloves, knocking airplanes with tennis racket propellers out of a sky full of pink light bulbs, you can blame me and ask yourself, where was the walnut nameplate? And actually, if you do, King Kong could represent asking the question, “Do you have any pets?” ■