books - The 20 Minute Networking Meeting, Marcia Ballinger and Nathan A. Perez

The 20 Minute Networking Meeting has probably been the most practical, useful book I've read in years. As an introvert I've always had a really hard time going to events where I don't know anyone. As a 43 year old trying to grow my career, I recognize that I really need to get out and "network". This book was hugely helpful to me as it laid out really clearly how to conduct a brief, effective business meeting with a stranger.

It's formatted around the idea of meeting in an executive's office. I'm not sure that I'll ever do that. I don't discount the idea, but it's not something I've ever seen in my field. The big thing that I've gotten from this is that I need to be much more focused in my elevator pitches - both around who I am and around what I want to do next. I was really embarrassed in retrospect after reading this book and remembering weird conversations I've had at events, where somebody was really trying to help me, and I had no clue how to respond properly. Now I know, and I'll keep working on refining what I have to say on those topics.

The day I finished the book I saw an essay go by on the web (I would link, but I can't find it now, it might have been Harvard Business Review) about reading a room. The gist was this - when you walk into a an event where you don't know many people, you can skip the ones who are futzing with their phones (obvious signal they want to be left alone for now), and skip the tight conversational groups (obvious signal they are engaged in conversation on another topic and may not welcome an interruption).

The people to look for are the ones who are alone or in groups of two or three that are chatting lightly, but standing facing out into the room, instead of facing each other. These are people who are open to an approach. Of course that all makes perfect sense once I see it in writing, but it really never occurred to me. The next night I had an opportunity to go to an event, I had been invited by a very generous connection in my industry, and I hadn't wanted to go initially, but said yes because I felt I needed to. It was a two hour event and I decided to go, and be prepared not to eat, and meet as many people as possible.

The food thing may just be a personal thing with me, but I figured that if I didn't eat I wouldn't risk wearing food on my clothing, needing to touch up lipstick, or having both hands occupied (food and drink) and being unable to shake hands. So that's what I did. I introduced my self to about 8 different people over the course of two hours, mostly my approach was "Hi, I"m looking for people to meet." I ended up having a great time and am now looking forward to my next event. I HIGHLY recommend this book to people, executives or not, who want to increase their group of contacts and aren't sure how to start.