This week we’re talking about conferences and how to get the most out of them. Along with about 5000 others, I’m in Atlanta for the Orange Conference, an amazing gathering of world class leaders to talk leadership, family and church.
In addition to figuring out how to apply what you’ve learned (we talked about this yesterday), conference provide another challenge and opportunity: the other 5000 people in the room with you. If you are like me, you instinctively duck crowds, and you intuitively gravitate to the people you know best. I love investing in our team and connecting with leaders I know, but in the midst of this it’s easy to miss one of the best opportunities a conference like Orange provides: meeting other great leaders.
Here are five lessons about networking that have helped me:
1. Be willing to learn from everyone. Let’s face it, the ‘food chain’ shows up everywhere in life. And well known, influential people show up at conferences. Don’t just try to meet people further up the career/status ladder than you are. I have learned a ton over the years from people in smaller churches who are not ‘famous’. And there was a day when the people giving keynotes on the mainstage were young leaders no one had heard of sitting in a back row like the rest of us. I have learned a ton of great lessons from ‘ordinary’ conversations over the years. Treasure those.
2. Don’t lead with your numbers. Why is it we feel we need to disclose our attendance and budget in the first five minutes of a conversation? Maybe we feel we have something to prove. Maybe we feel superior or inadequate. This is something God is beating out of me. But when I try to show how ‘big’ my church is (it’s not that huge, actually) or how much money we’ve raised, I build a wall between me and the person I’m talking to. It turns your first few minutes of conversation into a comparison game where someone wins and someone loses. Sometimes it is good to talk numbers, but usually only after a relationship has been established, and with a view to gaining insight, not gaining advantage. Humility doesn’t seek to impress.
3. Be fully present. This is such a learned behaviour for me. When I start a conversation, I’m rarely thinking only about that conversation. My mind is racing. Even if I’m not thinking about something else, I’m thinking about how not to mess up this conversation or what I’ll say next. That’s never good. Increasingly, I’m focusing on looking the person in the eye, really hearing their story and asking questions. Guess what? The more I do this, the more meaningful these connections become.
4. Follow them and friend them. While you can’t follow everyone you meet, there are a few for sure you’ll want to track. Take your phone out and follow them on twitter or friend them on Facebook…either during or after the conversation (if during, tell them you’re looking for them!). One of the reasons I love social networking is it allows me to track with hundreds of people I couldn’t track with otherwise. I’ve developed some great friendships with people I rarely get a chance to see.
5. Ask yourself some good questions. Increasingly when I’m in conversations with new people (pretty much every day), I walk into those encounters with two questions:
a. What can I learn?
b. How can I serve?
It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to, I can always learn something. Also, I decided a while back that I would try to serve everyone I meet. I know it sounds a bit cheesey, but we are servants after all. Sometimes it’s a word of encouragement. Sometimes it’s a piece of information they are looking for. Sometimes it’s something tangible. It’s not that I have anything to offer nearly as much as it is that Jesus commands us to serve others.
These are five things that help me become a better networker. I can honestly say I’ve loved the connections God has allowed me to make over the years.
What have you learned about networking?