This is a continuation of the “How to Network With Busy People” series. The first post in the series can be found here.
Continuing on with our tips…
Use a backdoor.
Busy people often have backdoor channels where they automatically pay more attention to incoming communication. In order to use these channels effectively, it helps if you have genuine shared interests that are somewhat uncommon.
For example, if the busy person eats an uncommon diet, and you eat a similar diet, that can be a powerful in.
Suppose someone emails me to say, “I’m coming to Vegas next week. Can I take you to lunch?” Now suppose someone says, “I’ve been a vegan for X years, and lately I’ve been experimenting with raw foods. Would you be interesting in sharing lunch at the Go Raw Cafe in Vegas next week when I’m in town?” Which invitation do you think I’m more likely to accept? Diet isn’t the most exciting thing to me these days, but at least I can anticipate an interesting connection from shared values.
I’ve also been playing disc golf for years. One time a very experienced disc golfer suggested we hook up for a game while he was in town. I didn’t know him, but I was going to play anyway with some friends that weekend, so I invited him to come along, and he offered to share some tips to help us play better. My friends were looking forward to it too since none of us have had any real coaching. Unfortunately we had to cancel due to bad weather, but I consider the invitation still open next time he makes it to Vegas. Of course during the two hours my friends and I play disc golf, we talk about all sorts of things. As with many male bonding activities, the game itself is largely beside the point.
The less generic the backdoor, the better. Look for commonalities that are shared by less than 1% of the general population. If someone says to me, “I’m a fellow blogger / Trekkie / Depeche Mode fan / entrepreneur,” that’s still too common. Even “I’m a vegan / raw foodist” is getting weak because my website attracts a lot of people who follow those diets, I already have more raw and vegan friends than I can keep up with, and I meet plenty of new raw/vegan friends at the monthly raw potlucks in Vegas.
On the other hand, if someone tells me, “I share your interest in polyamory,” that’s unusual enough to stand out. I enjoy connecting with people who share that interest because the people who are into it tend to be pretty unique and fun to hang out with. This also applies to people who are really into social dynamics – for one they tend to have decent social skills and are fun to talk to, and for another they tend to be more courageous than most, which means there’s a strong basis for shared values.
“I’m a fellow author/speaker” is so-so; it connects with me professionally, but it’s still too common to qualify as a backdoor. If it’s someone I’ve heard of and want to meet, I’m all over it. But if it’s someone I’ve never heard of, then whether or not I follow up depends on my time. The main problem is that most of the time other authors/speakers contact me, they’re just looking for partners to help promote their work, and that doesn’t excite me as much as making new friends and sharing ideas.
An excellent backdoor is whatever new interest your target is just getting into. The door is wide open because they probably don’t know many people who share that interest yet. So they’re often happy to connect on that basis because they’re eager to learn, share, and grow.
For example, when I said that I wanted to learn chess last year, several people offered to play chess games with me, and I accepted most of those offers. Earlier this year when I started writing about polyamory, many people who had experience with it contacted me, and I made some interesting new friends because of it. This sort of thing happens every time I share something new that I’m getting into. Many other busy people do the same thing.
On the other hand, day after day the ongoing flood of front door requests continues unabated, no matter what the busy person is currently into. How much chance do those people have of making a real connection?
Every day people ask me for advice about blogging. Every day people ask me to help promote stuff for them. Every week people ask me about polyphasic sleep, and that was an experiment I did in 2005-06. I don’t reply in those cases because discussing those topics doesn’t interest me much. Those kinds of incoming communiqués bore me to tears. Delete. Delete. Delete.
If you want to connect with a busy person, find out what their current passion or interest is. If it’s an interest you share, there’s your backdoor. Never try to fake an interest, but be on the lookout for shared interests that you can use to build a bridge.
Busy people are often very growth-oriented. So even if you can’t identify an interest that you share, if you can teach them something that might interest them, or if you can offer them a cool experience, there’s another great in.
For example, you can offer to teach someone to play tennis or golf if you know how to play. Or offer to take someone kayaking. You don’t have to be a master to teach a beginner lesson and show someone the ropes.
I could list tons of activities I’d love to try, and in many cases I’d gladly accept an offer from someone willing to show me how to get started. Many other busy people are in the same boat.
For example, I always wanted to try doing stand-up comedy. I think it would be a fun challenge. Some friends recently told me about a new club in Las Vegas that’s for people who want to try stand-up. It’s called Hecklers Anonymous. I said, “Count me in!” We’re going to help each other create and test material, and soon we’ll be doing some open mike nights at Vegas comedy clubs. Some members of the group have already done stand-up.
Understand the problem of boredom.
Understand that the main problem busy people want to avoid is being swamped and overwhelmed – and bored to tears – with more of the same. It gets really, really dull to keep getting the same kinds of communiqués day in and day out. The sheer volume of communication is one problem, but an issue that I’d say is equally problematic is having to deal with way too much of the same old thing. The endless repetition of the same patterns can turn an otherwise active person’s life into a seemingly inescapable cage.
This is a really crucial point. Does it make sense to you? If you can understand and accept this part of a busy person’s daily reality, it’s safe to say you’re already in the top 5% of networkers… probably the top 1%.
Busy people still want to meet new people. They really do. They still want to connect, hang out, network, and have fun. They’re not cold and rude. They just need their social lives to be varied and interesting. By shielding themselves from overwhelm and mindless repetition, they’re able to be more present when they do reach out and connect.
Personally I love connecting with people. I often invite people over to my house just to hang out. Once I invited someone I’d only met on Facebook to stay in our guest room for 5 days. But do I want to spend my precious life having endless discussions about the same topics over and over again? Of course not. I want to live a life that is interesting, challenging, and filled with growth experiences. That requires lots of variety.
On a personal note, some people have sent me feedback suggesting that people could use the information I’m sharing in this series against me. I understand their concern. Since I’m sharing personal info to illustrate the key points, you could make the case that I’m giving people the ammo they need to discover my own backdoors.
I understood that potential side effect before I began writing this series. You could say I’m actually counting on it. I suspect that most people will keep using the same uncreative channels simply because it’s easy, and they’ll have their messages processed as usual. On the other hand, if too many people pick up on the same obvious idea and try it, then it will become yet another pattern, and it will soon be processed routinely like any other.
But what if someone does something really creative based on what they learn from this series, and it works for them, and we connect because of it? Is that such a bad thing? Like I said, I love connecting with new people. The kind of person who would do something like that probably has a lot in common with me anyway and might make a good friend or contact. Worst case, I might gain some ideas for a follow-up article for this series.
You see… busy people aren’t trying to isolate themselves. Their goal isn’t to find better and better ways of shielding themselves from the world. I guess some of them do become recluses, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Deep down busy people still want to make new friends, connect, hang out, and have fun. They just don’t want to be overwhelmed, and they don’t want to be bored to tears with the same patterns over and over again. They’re always on the lookout for interesting people who will add value to their lives.
If you can learn to be a person who adds value to people’s lives in unique ways, you have the potential to be an amazing networker. Doors will open for you that are closed to everyone else.
To be continued…