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Networking for introverts

There are few places where it feels like networking matters more than it does in tech. In this week’s episode, Cal sits down with Nashville’s very own Dave Delaney to talk about how to make the most of a networking event, even if people aren’t really your jam.

Transcript of Conversation:

Cal Evans: Welcome to The Frontier. My name is Cal Evans. I’m your host, and my special guest today is my longtime friend and favorite son of Nashville, Mr. Dave Delaney. Say hi to everybody, Dave.

Dave Delaney: Hi to everybody, Dave!

Cal: Hey Dave, why don’t you give us a little bit of introduction about yourself before we dive into the questions?

Dave:Yeah, thanks for having me, Cal. So, I am Dave Delaney. I run Futureforth at Futureforth.com–shameless plug. We help fast growing technology companies improve retention communication with our NICE methodology. I’ve got a podcast called The Nice Podcast over at Nicepodcast.co, but you can find it all at Futureforth.

Cal: And we’ll also throw links in the show notes to all of those. Dave, it is wonderful to talk to you again. You’re one of the things that I miss in Nashville. We had so many good times, and we could sit here and tell stories all day; you know, Geek Breakfast, and Pod Camp, and just all kinds of fun things. And BarCamp. We worked on BarCamp a couple years together. So yeah, BarCamp Nashville, but let’s dive in, because nobody wants to hear my stories. They’ve heard ’em all before. They’re here to hear you talk about networking. And specifically–I called this one–originally it was titled Networking for Developers, but we’re gonna call it “Networking for Introverts”. But most developers– I mean, you know me, Dave. You knew me back when I really wasn’t the outgoing type person, and I always was fascinated by the fact that you found ways to make opportunities. So let’s talk. First, let’s talk about the changes in networking, in general. I mean, has the move online helped or hurt networking, in general?

Dave: That’s a good question. I think it’s hurt, in general, only because I think we really need to be in person in order to make true connections. Not–I mean, true connections–air quotes there–but I really do believe that a handshake, a high five, you know, that sort of physical touch and connection is really–and also, not just that, but the serendipity of meeting people in person, the hallways at conferences, the water cooler, if you will, at work–the magic seems to happen there, more than online, in my opinion.

Cal: Yeah, and I totally agree. Like I said, I miss the Nashville events that you were always so great to organize, and we just don’t have that down in our area. And I think a lot of people in Nashville might take for granted that everybody gets that, but no, they don’t. Hey, but let’s be honest, aren’t networking events just for people that are looking to sell me something; and if I’m there, I’m looking to sell somebody else something?

Dave: Sometimes, and those are the bad networking events.

Cal: Yep, ok.

Dave: So you know, networking–one of the things with networking is–it automatically has a negative connotation to the word “networking”, ‘cause you think straight away, you think of those types of events–you think of the blackjack dealer whipping business cards in your face, and you feel like, you know, dying to just shower and clean yourself after shaking a bunch of slimy hands and that kind of thing. And so, yeah, networking to me is all about building genuine relationships–planting seeds, if you will. Call it karma, call it what you want, but really just trying to help other people, first and foremost, and then nice things come as a result of that.

Cal: This is true. Now, if I’m getting ready to go to a networking–just attend a network event,  do I need to do any prep work before this event, or is it just show up and head straight to the bar and grab a beer?

Dave: Right. Yeah, good question. I think, yes, it’s beneficial to do a little bit of prep, and it depends, right? If it’s a little local meetup or something, yeah, maybe not so much, but if it’s more of a conference or something that you’re spending some money on attending, I would do a little more due diligence and research who’s gonna be there, the sponsors, the speakers, the organizers; and even reach out to them before attending to say, “Hey, I saw you attending this event. I would love to connect,” and have that beer at the bar or have a coffee, or something to that effect.

So I think it’s worth–it’s also taking a step back of questioning–not questioning, but asking yourself, you know, “Why am I going to this event in the first place?” Because are you, you know, looking for a co-founder? Are you looking for a developer? Are you looking for a–you know, someone for your team? Are you looking for a job? You know, or are you just looking for a mentor, or someone like that? So really having a better understanding of why you’re going to the event in the first place can–for example, if you’re a salesperson, and you’re trying to go to meet some prospects, then I would definitely spend a little bit of time looking at who’s gonna be there, and schedule some meetings ahead of time.

Cal: It’s interesting you’d say that. Early on in my career in community development, I had to attend–there’s a–used to be, it might still be going on–O’Riley used to put on a conference in San Francisco called OSCON. I went for a couple of years, and the very first year was my very first year doing any of this stuff, and I had no idea what to do; but I was writing blog posts, and so I made a list of the people I wanted to talk to. And because I was bored one afternoon, I actually went out and downloaded a little baseball card template, and I found all of their pictures. And then on the back, I put a couple little facts about them that I wanted to remember when I was talking to them, and I printed these out.

And, you know, I owned some cardstock, and I had a little rubber band, and I stuck it in my backpack. Well, I walk into the main hall, and I notice one of my people there. So I pulled out my cards and I said, “Oh, hey! You’re Terry Che!” and, you know, he immediately focused on the baseball cards, ignored me, totally, took them, spread them all out–turns out, five of the seven that I wanted to talk to were sitting right there with Terry. And so they’re all taking pictures of it, you know, and talking, “Well, what is this? You know, where can I get a set?” and all this, but that’s it. I knew who I wanted to talk to. I came out of that with seven great interviews that I later on wrote up and published.

So yeah,  I get the idea that you kind of need to know who’s gonna be there. Now that was a major event. You know, when you were putting on things like Geek Breakfast, and I don’t know if you still do that or not, but geez, if you don’t, that’s just a loss for Nashville. But when you were putting on Geek Breakfast, I don’t recall there ever being a page that said, “Hey, this is who’s gonna be there.” Was there something like that, and I just missed it? Or was it just a show up and you gotta figure out who it is? 

Dave: There was no page for Geek Breakfast. No, it was just strictly just come and hang out with whoever shows up. It was very–there were three rules of Geek Breakfast. One was show up. If you register to attend, show up, because it sucks when people don’t show up. Two was invite your friends. I think it was, or–no sponsors was one of the rules, and the other rule was tip. Tip your server.

Cal: Oh yeah, and that was a wonderful time. I’m gonna keep jumping in and out of the standard questions that you and I have agreed on, but one of the things that just absolutely–looking back when I was preparing your interview, it’s thanks to you and your networking events that I got to meet people like Georgia Cross, and Jacques Woodcock, and Jacques and I went on to be great friends, and we even created our own event: Coder Fair. So you know, you never know who you’re gonna run into at these things and what life changing things might just accidentally happen.

Dave: Yeah, I mean, it was cool, like Georgia also co-founded a social media club in Nashville with her and Jessica as a result of meeting at Geek Breakfast. So I always loved hearing those stories, and I was just talking to Jacques last week actually, which was pretty cool to catch up with him. It’d been a while.

Cal: Yep. He’s up there with Amazon and Jeff Bezos and all them these days, but every now and then he’ll slum it and come back down, talk to the rest of us. 

Okay. This is one question I always have: When I go to a networking event, should I go alone, or should I drag somebody with me? ‘Cause I have a tendency. If I’m gonna drag somebody, I drag the lovely and talented Kathy.

Dave: Yes, I think it’s worth bringing a wing person, if you will, along with you. The key thing though, is not to hide out in your corner and avoid everybody else. That’s the only downside with you, and same can go, you know, for when you start to frequent events where you start to get to know people, and then you’ve got your little pocket of people–it makes it more difficult for others to join in. So it’s important to be mindful of that wallflower over there, that you should say, “Hey, come over here. We need to talk to you.” You know? So I think it’s worth bringing a wing person with you, but  I definitely think that (inaudible) and get outta your comfort zone and meet some new people too.

Cal: And that is way far out of my comfort zone. Kathy and I had a policy at Geek Breakfast. We’d never sit with the same group each month. So, you know, the next month, we’d go find somebody else we wanted to sit with. That way we could at least make the rounds, you know?

Dave: Yeah, for sure. For sure. It also helps too, when you have someone, like I’ve been to events with my wife where we run into somebody, and I don’t know their name. And Heather knows that, like, if I introduce them, I always say, “and this is my wife, Heather.” And if I do that, Heather knows to say, “Oh, what’s your name?” And then she gets it. So, you know, that’s, again, the advantage of having a wing person in that kind of setting.

People– I was just gonna say, people are often pretty forgiving if you forget their name. And also, a lot of times, a lot of events have you wearing a lanyard or a name badge anyway. 

Cal: Yeah, that beats mine of just walking up, “Hey you!” because I’m horrible with names.

Hey okay. So, you know, going with someone that’s a, you know, it’s a, it’s a mixed bag because there were times when it was just easier for me to, you know, sit on the sidelines and talk to Kathy and that’s really not the point of it, but once I’m there, how do I approach people? And this is the real hard one for me. Do I need to take my index cards and have conversation starters with me, or my baseball cards like I did at OSCON? What’s the best way to meet people at these things?

Dave: Yeah. I think the best thing to do–Well, first of all, look at the name badge or the lanyard or what have you; think of those as an invitation to go and talk to that person. Nobody attends a networking event with the intention of standing alone and not talking to anyone, right? Why would they go? So right away, look at that as an invitation to go and introduce yourself, and go and introduce yourself, and then ask them what brings them to the event. Simple question, it’s open-ended, so they can say, well, you know, I’m looking for a job or I’m new to town or whatever it is. And by the answer from that–now what’s key here–and the old anagram there of “silent” is actually right there in in the word “listen”, meaning to try to stay–not silent in an awkward kind of way–but try to let the other person do the bulk of the talking.

And in order to do that, you need to ask open-ended questions, and you need to listen effectively–and I go through a bunch of exercises about listening effectively with some of the workshops and training I do with the NICE method–but really, what you’re trying to do is listen effectively, and let the person do the bulk of the talking so that they–everybody likes talking about themselves. Maybe they’re nervous at first, making them feel comfortable to do that. But then they like you even more because you’ve let them do the bulk of the talking.

Cal: Very good advice, and I like the question of, “So why are you here?” much better than–my default is, “So what do you do?” And yeah, that can almost get personal at times. And I always feel awkward, you know, when I’m asking that, but “Why are you here?” That’s a much better way. And then, you know, you can tailor your conversation based on the response. 

Dave: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, yeah, ‘cause then you’re gonna end up finding out, like if they work somewhere, they’re probably there because of some professional (inaudible) so that will probably naturally tie into where they work.

Cal: Very cool. Okay. So every networking event I’ve been to, I’ve always taken a stack of business cards, you know, and I’m not great at the whole business card game. I hand out a couple of ’em, but I’m not one of those–what’d you call it? The blackjack dealer. That’s just, I’m not that guy. But in virtual events, what is the business card?

Dave: Mm, yeah, that’s a good point. That’s a good question. Really, I think it’s an email address. It’s a way, you know, or a private chat (inaudible). Basically get their email address so that you can follow up. Really, I mean, the point of a business card in the first place is to follow up. That’s why like, you know, people go to events with business cards, and their goal is to give them all out; and the point is that you’re way better off collecting a business card from somebody you actually want to follow up with–but collecting a business card from someone you meet that you like, that you wanna follow up with, because then the ball’s in your court, then you (inaudible) information ‘cause you got their card. If they get your card, well, you know, you, you can hope they follow up, but they may not.

And really when it comes to networking online or offline, the three main points about networking is to show up, to follow up, and to catch up. And so having that information, how to contact them is kind of key to all of that. So getting back to your question about doing it virtually, you know, if we are on a, let’s say a Zoom happy hour meeting a bunch of people, you can easily privately chat somebody and say, “Hey, let me grab your email address or your web address, like your website or, you know, I could say LinkedIn here, as well. Just so that way I can follow up with you, or I can, you know, and then follow up with them from there.

Cal: Yeah. That’s excellent advice, and leads me to the next question, you know: Once the event is over, what kind of follow up is appropriate? You know, do you, when you’re doing one of your–when you’re attending a network event–not when you’re running one, but when you’re attending one–do you email everybody that you met or everybody you ran into and say, “Hey, it was great meeting you”? Or do you cherry pick certain conversations and continue those?

Dave: Yeah, no, I try to follow up with everybody I meet. And I do that. So one of the things I do is, if we meet in an event, and you know, we strike a nice accord and I’m like, “Oh man, Cal, I need to follow up with you! You know, I’d love to have a coffee or a Zoom call or something later. Let me grab your information. Let me grab–do you have a card on you?”,  and you give me your card. Then after we’ve talked, I’ll discreetly find a corner or a bathroom or somewhere to take a note on that card, on your card. And I’ll write a note on your card saying, “Oh, Cal’s awesome. We both love breakfast. I should follow up with him about inviting him to Geek Breakfast”, or you know, something like that,  or what we talked about, or even what you were wearing to help, depending. ‘Cause if you’re at a conference, and you’re meeting hundreds of people, then that can also help you remember that person, but just writing down some notes.

Now, I say discreetly do this, because culturally, this can be a very offensive move, especially to people from like Japan or China or other Asian countries where if you collect their business card, and then you just write something on that business card, that could be quite an insult. You know, rather, if you speak to somebody, you know, typically you would accept their business card with both of your hands. You would look at the business card–like study it, you know; and then, as you’re speaking gracefully, place it in your pocket, in your breast pocket or something–you nicely, you know, treat it like it’s gold. And so, if you write on it, that’s not gonna go over so well.

That’s why I say like, eh, find a little corner, and it depends, of course, culturally, I mean, who you’re speaking with as well. But something to keep in mind–and then that way, when you get back home after, let’s say, attending a conference, and you’ve got a stack of business cards from people you met over a few days, you have all these notes, and now when you send out these follow up emails, you’ll have, you know, “Hey Cal, here’s the link to my grandmother’s scrambled egg recipe I mentioned. You’ll love it”, or “Here’s an article about blah, blah, blah,” or something, you have some reason to follow up.

Cal: Yeah. Oh, that is fascinating. And I had seen a little bit or heard, read somewhere a little bit about different cultures treat the business card exchange differently. You know, in the US, you know, it literally, you know, I’ve seen people just flip ’em like they’re flipping the playing cards, but you know, in other cultures, it’s much more serious. And you know, my big faux pas is never having them. I’ll go to events and just totally forget to bring any. 

Dave: Well, it’s not terrible. I mean, if you forget to bring your cards, you can do a couple things. One, as I said before, you’re better off collecting a card from somebody else, ‘cause then you have their contact info, so you can follow up with them, and you’re better off that way than hoping  they follow up with you. But if you talk, if you meet somebody, and you like the person, and you wanna follow up, and they don’t have a business card, you know, LinkedIn, who I was a keynote for LinkedIn’s conference in Nashville, and then I advised a company that was acquired by LinkedIn, so I do a fair amount of stuff with LinkedIn. And a point about that is LinkedIn’s app–if you both have LinkedIn’s app on your phones, a lot of people don’t realize there’s a feature there where you can scan the other person’s app on the LinkedIn app and automatically connect. All I would add is just to make sure you add a note about what you met about, otherwise, you might forget later. So just, you know, even in the notes app, say, “Met Cal, know we talked about grandma’s eggs,” or something.

Cal: Where were you back in ‘99 when LinkedIn first came out, and I started collecting contacts like they were Pokemon cards? Now I have no idea where half of my contacts came from, ‘cause I didn’t bother to take notes. 

Dave: Right. Yeah, no, absolutely. I just celebrated, I think it was my 15th year or 14th year on LinkedIn, and my 15th on Twitter. So yeah. And early days of social media, as you know, I mean, it was kind of a faux pas not to accept requests from people, same with Twitter. You would always follow everybody back kind of thing. And I think, yeah, nowadays I had always advised people really not to connect with people they haven’t met, unless it’s like, you know, somebody who you really want to get to know better.

Cal: Yeah. On my LinkedIn, I’ve got maybe five people that I’ve not shaken their hand, and that’s always been my policy on LinkedIn, because I’ve got a handshake rule. If I have not physically met you, then I’m not gonna accept. And I tell people, you know, “Hey, I appreciate it, but you know, once we’ve met, remind me, I’ll be happy to.”

Dave: Yeah, no, that’s just, I have a whole strategy with that where I’ve got a little email or a little instant reply that I have in a text document that I literally copy and paste in a shortcut into introduction messages from people or connection requests, excuse me, on LinkedIn, just to say, you know, “Hey, remind me where we met please.” And most of the time, they don’t reply at all, ‘cause they might be a bot or something. But when they do, that’s when I can decide, “Okay, well, we haven’t actually met, sorry,” or “We haven’t met, but I would like to get to know you better.” So, you know, maybe in this case I will, but yeah.

Cal: Yeah, very cool. Okay. Once the event is over and I don’t come away with any “takeaways”–I’m doing the whole quote fingers, but they can’t see that. I don’t come away with any takeaways or any conversations. Am I a networking failure?

Dave: No, not at all. I think you–it’s important to understand that–well, it’s important to understand that if you are meeting people at events or virtually, or, you know, in person or online, I mean you are networking well.

Just because you don’t have a shared interest, or you don’t really have much of a reason to follow up with this person, chances hopefully are, the reason why you got their information in the first place is you like them. You know, “Hey, Cal’s a nice guy. I can’t do any business with him, necessarily. I don’t see any sort of professional future right now or anything like that,” but really the point is just to meet cool people. And so if you’re networking nicely, I would consider that a success, really. And again, it’s really about sort of planting seeds, and it’s not so much about take, take, take; it’s more about give, give, give. So rather than me think, “Oh, I can’t sell Cal  this widget, dang!” It’s more like, “Hey, Cal was talking about how he’s trying to sell these widgets, and I happen to know somebody who could actually really use those widgets, and why not connect Cal to that guy or gal?”, since you know, he’s selling the widgets and he’s cool. 

Cal: That is true. And I, I always love doing that–connecting people, and I write these big, elaborate connection email letters and introduce each person, give them a little bit about how I know this person.  I’m very hesitant to introduce people that I don’t know well enough to write one of those letters, because if I don’t know you well enough, I get weird about stuff like that. You know, I wanna be able to give my stamp of approval, but I gotta know you at a certain level before I can do that. Does that make sense?

Dave: Yeah. No, yeah. That makes sense.

Cal: Yeah, okay. Final question: What’s the one thing that introverts need to know about a network or about networking and attending networking events?

Dave: So if you’re more introverted–and, well, first of all, understand that nobody is a hundred percent introverted or extroverted or ambiverted, if you will. So we all swing somewhere along the line,  but we’re all over the place. But of course, some people lean definitely more introverted. My wife is more introverted, I’m more extroverted. So depending on where you are in that line–if you’re on the introverted side–if you absolutely dread going to an event and meeting people, but you know, you gotta do it, then just set yourself a goal of saying, “Okay, I’m gonna talk to one person. I’m gonna meet one stranger,” or “I’m gonna stay here for 30 minutes or an hour or something, and then I can leave.” And then next time you go to the event, say, “Okay, I’m only gonna meet… I only need to talk with two people, and then I can get outta here.”

So what I’m saying is,  give yourself a bit of grace, but also understand that, you know, you’re never gonna meet that special someone if you never go on a date, or you’re never gonna get that job if you don’t go to the job interview or, you know, pitching a VC for funding, blah, blah, blah. You get what I’m saying. You’ll never meet that co-founder. So you do have to make some effort in getting out there and meeting people. So even if you’re very introverted, you know, I would set yourself some reasonable goals that way, and then just try to beat those goals next time; but it’s important. And you know, as I said before, like most people are, you know, or nobody, I would say, is going to a networking event who just wants to be there alone. So you know, just find the person that’s alone, and go talk to them.

Cal: Excellent advice. Dave, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us here today on The Frontier. Audience, thank you for taking time to give us a listen. Hey, do me a favor. If you like what you’ve heard, please go to your favorite podcatcher, or whatever. Give us five stars, five thumbs up, whatever it is. If there’s something we can do better, please drop me an email at [email protected]. I would love to hear from you. Hey, thanks so much for your time. Thank you again, Dave, and we’ll see you right here next week on The Frontier.

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Cal Evans
Cal Evans

Interested in working with Gun.io? We specialize in helping engineers hire (and get hired by) the best minds in software development.

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