Book Review: Make Your Contacts Count by Anne Baber and Lynne WaymonApril 4, 2007
I’ve never been overly comfortable networking. I like people, but I often feel like “networking” is a synonym for “faking.” Everybody has an agenda, making small talk when all they really want to know is “can you help me?” And, if you’re not the person who does this, you’ve at least met the person who shakes your hand while simultaneously looking around the room to see if someone more interesting/important is around.
People like me are exactly who the book Make Your Contacts Count is intended for. It makes networking sound like fun, not something you need to apologize for. And it is a great guide for networking without the fakeness.
The essential message of Make Your Contacts Count is that you hurt yourself when you spend all of your time thinking about how to get your personal sales pitch across instead of thinking about the other person’s needs. Spend more time listening and then see how you can help the person you’re speaking to, either with your own skills or via other people in your network. That will make you a valuable resource, so even if you don’t get a direct benefit today, every time you help someone, you increase the chances someone will help you. Why? Because people don’t like to feel indebted to others. If you help them, they want to pay you back. So the more help you give, the more people you have out there wanting to give back to you. While authors Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon don’t use this word, I’d call it networking karma. What goes around comes around.
However, that doesn’t mean the authors think you should network without an agenda. Far from it. In fact, they’re adamant that networking is a waste of time if you aren’t spending time before an event thinking about what you want to accomplish. Standing around in a crowd with a drink in your hand and hoping for serendipity is what breeds hatred of networking events. Instead, while you’re learning about the needs of others, there’s nothing wrong with making your needs clear as well. After all, the whole point of networking is to create a “network”—a group of people that you try to help and who in turn help you.
Make Your Contacts Count is a great book on networking because it tackles the big issues of how to create a network and how to deepen relationships with people in that network, but then also the smaller issues—How do I get a conversation started? How do I end a conversation politely? How do I do a better job of remembering people’s names?
For me and my networking shortcomings, the chapter titled “What Do You Do?” was especially helpful. As you might guess, it helps you to answer the question “what do you do?” in the best way possible. For example, saying “I’m a lawyer” is not as good as “I’m a patent attorney. I just helped CrineCo Industries stop a competitor from manufacturing a knockoff of their scuba diving equipment.” The first answer gets you a head nod and uncomfortable silence. The second gets a conversation going while making it clear where your skills lie. But most of us will only offer the second, better answer if we’ve planned for the question before it comes up.
I haven’t read a lot of books on networking, so I can’t compare Make Your Contacts Count to other books on the subject. But I found it to be so comprehensive and so full of good ideas that I can’t imagine seeking out other books on the subject. From a networking neophyte, you should consider that a ringing endorsement.
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