The late Richard Levick was the greatest networker I’ve known. He often reminded me of networking’s importance and never missed an opportunity to attend a large gathering, give a speech, or quickly follow up with a social post. He insisted his senior leadership team meet two new people a week, particularly over a quick breakfast, was critical for business development.
“Networking is an art,” Richard said. “It’s an action verb and something that you need to practice frequently and strategically, not just when you’re ready to switch things up in your professional life.”
Richard proved time and time again to be an amazing networker. In fact, he called me on his deathbed to remind me what a great friend I had been and didn’t miss the opportunity to remind me that his company, Levick Strategic Communications where I worked for many years in Washington, DC, was a good place to send my best students for its coveted internship program.
Richard’s obituary in the Washington Post was his final piece of networking. It is packed full of personal successes but also reminded the reader that to be successful, one must take risks, be strategic, go places that others aren’t going and be willing to find hidden opportunities.
I’ve recalled his words of wisdom during the fifteen years of teaching college students about how to network. “Every person you meet is a potential employer, donor, partner or buyer,” Richard told me once while we were flying to Kuwait to meet a new client.
But Richard believed, like I do, that networking is almost always local.
Networking has more than professional benefits and modern networking theory can teach us a lot.
Just two decades ago, Robert Putnam, the Bowling Alone author who wrote about how we have increasingly become disconnected from our family, friends and neighbors, found that when people in a region share a common network, there can be tremendous benefits to the community. Essentially, building individual networks, can make a town, region or municipalities stronger, safer and healthier. It means people need you too.
Studies in the 1980s found that networks are the defining feature of “innovative regions” like Silicon Valley. If you look closely at individual players in a specific area, it’s not so much that people all know each other but that individuals are using the few people they do know in a strategic way.
One of the most influential social theories of the past century is Mark Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties. One way to think about your social world is that you have an inner circle of people whom you often talk to and feel close with, and an outer circle of acquaintances whom you see infrequently or fleetingly. Granovetter named these categories “strong ties” and “weak ties”. His central insight was that for new information and ideas, weak ties are more important to us than strong ones.
We need both weak ties and strong ties. Together, they provide us such great opportunity. Most people get new job opportunities not from the closest connections but from people in our friend’s networks – your best friend’s second cousin’s wife.
Here are five best practices to follow or keep in mind if you want to become a networking pro. It is guidance to those early in their careers and a reminder to those grizzled veterans and everyone in between. (Note: I’ll talk about these in much more detail during the presentation).
- Network Intergenerationally. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people younger and older than you.
- Help Others. Become the person people turn to. Karma is real.
- Be Present. Being fully present during a conversation, (on and offline).
- Keep in Touch. You can’t build relationships if all your interactions with people are transactional. In other words, don’t be the person who only reaches out to others when they need something.
- Respect others. Ask yourself: “Am I behaving in a way that I’d appreciate if I was on the other side?”
- Be strategic. Build the right network for you. Know where you’re going.
Together we improve our network and build a better and stronger Northern Nevada. Richard Levick had one last thing to point out, “Success doesn’t happen overnight but it happens a lot quicker if we have a strong network.”
If you attend the NCET Biz Bite event on July 26, you can hear all about ways to become a better networker and how a little effort can have big benefits for you and your region. Click here to register.
NCET is a member-supported nonprofit organization that produces educational and networking events to help people explore business and technology.
Todd Felts, EdD, APR, is an associate professor in the Reynolds School at the University of Nevada, Reno (www.journalism.unr.edu). Prior to joining the University, he spent two decades working in a variety of professional roles including politics, world events and at PR firms in Washington, DC.