Networking: A tale of two titans
My story of the revolutionary truth about networking begins:
It was the worst of times; it was the best of times.
Yes, I know that’s not the order Charles Dickens used. But I met my first Titan under circumstances so stressful that when I happened upon a news story about the event several years later, I actually had a bout of PTSD. In terms of my business life, it was definitely the worst of times.
Back then, I didn’t have time to worry about the Titan’s reputation or fame. I was just head-down at my desk, doing the best work I could in an impossible situation. Fortunately, that “best” impressed him.
If we’d met under any other circumstances—at a cocktail party or (shudder) a networking event—I might have been just another fangirl, searching frantically for something intelligent to say. But in these circumstances, he met my work first. And that said the intelligent things for me.
When I picked up the office phone the next morning, I heard:
“Hello, Elaine? This is Warren Buffett. Did you write this thing?”
I had. He liked it. Over the six months we worked together, “the worst of times” turned pretty darn good.
Networking like a fangirl
I met the second Titan in much more relaxed circumstances: A friend and I bought tickets for a Broadway show featuring an actor we both adore. [Let me pause for a moment to define “adore.” In my case, it means that when this man sings, I sometimes forget I play for the other team—until my friend reminds me. She’s on his team, and somehow believes that gives her “dibs.” Though the actor’s wife might disagree.]
A colleague who wanted to do my friend a favor asked if she’d like to meet the actor after the show. I guilted her into taking me along. I mean, what are friends for?
We waited at the restaurant next door to the theater. I took a deep breath as I watched him dart past the front window and slip inside. The best of times, indeed.
He greeted my friend first and then turned to me. I consider it one of the signal accomplishments of my life thusfar that when he took my hand and said my name, I didn’t faint on the spot.
Perhaps a better accomplishment would have been to actually talk to him. But every ounce of common sense flew out of my head the moment he turned his eyes on me. I sat at the table in a daze, unable to ask a single question. My friend carried the conversation, suddenly the most charming I’ve ever seen her.
Now, it’s not like I had nothing to say to the man: we even have a (different) friend in common! We could have had a lot to talk about. But I was star-struck and dumbstruck. Easily the worst two “strucks” you can combine.
I connected well with Mr. Buffett because our conversation began on solid ground: we were talking about work, at which we both excel. But with the Actor—well, I acted like a fangirl because I was a fangirl. I completely forgot about the many very interesting other facets of my personality.
The revolutionary truth about networking—and thank you, Dorie Clark, for reminding me of this—is that it’s nothing more than having conversations with people you want to talk to anyway. Whether they’re one of the richest men in America, a man with one of the richest voices on Broadway, or the John or Jane Doe sitting next to you at a dinner party, we’re all just people. With a vast range of interests. It’s just about finding a way to connect…and then connecting.