The last post on networking seemed to be a hit, and this is another great one to go with it. The values of personal relationships are obvious, but sometimes when making those connections can be hard. Or we make them and then fail to cultivate them. One way to help you build lasting bonds, is to start with yourself (since you have the most control over that!) and figure out how to memorable to those you meet.
When I was a kid, my mother encouraged us to have our own sense of style. It was a huge treat each year when we were given $5 for school clothes and could buy anything we wanted (at the Goodwill, where most things were a quarter or fifty cents, that $5 could go quite far). And while that special shopping trip allowed us freedom to express ourselves, wearing red cowboy boots, sequin tops, and lacy robes didn’t exactly lend itself to blending in with the other kids.
Like most people, as I got older, it became more important to me that I be like everybody else. In fact, I hated the fact I was different. To put it lightly, fitting in was not what I did best, and for a long time I viewed it as a really bad thing.
But what I’ve learned – and what I hope to share with all of you in this post – is that when it comes to work and play, standing out from the crowd (in a good way) is actually a huge benefit. People who are different and who have new ideas are usually the ones who make the greatest impact. So even though standing out might make you just a little bit nervous, the rewards of marching to your own drummer will pay off throughout your life and career.
We all need other people in order to succeed.
For a long time, I was not someone other people wanted to know. I thought I always knew best and if everyone else would just get out of my way, then things would be perfect. But soon enough, I found out that if you actually have a few people on your side, your power to do something great grows exponentially.
And there’s no easier way to get people on your team than to make them want to be on your team.
Everyone is unique; what makes you someone other people would want to know? Relentless positivity? An adventurous spirit? A razor sharp wit? Patience and empathetic listening? As you read this post try to hone in on what makes you different and how you can harness those qualities into a positive impression.
I think what stops a lot of people from standing out (especially introverts like me) is thinking that standing out is somehow inauthentic. Like, the people who are always trying to be the center of attention aren’t really being themselves or showing off their best qualities; instead, a lot of them are just trying to make enough noise to be noticed. (I have tried this approach too, and I wouldn’t recommend it – it is far better to learn what makes you tick and work within those parameters)
But standing out isn’t about stealing the scene. You can be unforgettable by presenting the best version of you that there is. Think about the people you are drawn to in a crowd. What makes you want to get to know them? More often than not, it’s that they are actively broadcasting their best features to everyone around them and drawing those people in.
[As an exercise next time you are around a lot of people, like a party or even the airport, spend a moment looking around and observing the people. Who draws your eye? What are they doing? What about them appeals to you? Sometimes analyzing the way others showcase their attributes (and a lot of it comes to confidence) you can actually learn to see yourself differently.]
Take a look at yourself and think about what you already have that makes you special. (Trust me, everyone has something!) Then find a way to let people know about it.
Make a lasting impression
One of the books that made a big impact on me was called The Game. I loved it because it was all about applying patterns to social situations and I learned quite a bit reading a fun story. And if you know me you will sometimes hear me relate life lessons to pickup artists. Pickup artists have a technique called peacocking that they use to help set them apart from all the other guys in a bar. As you can probably guess from the name, these guys are trying to get attention from women by wearing something that catches their eye and starts a conversation.
This kind of thing works because, well, people are intrigued when someone makes a point of standing out from the crowd. A bold accessory or quirky look gives you immediate common ground with anyone in the room because it’s something you can talk about first thing. Standing out on purpose also displays a level of confidence that many people find very attractive.
When you’re getting ready for your next networking event, remember: sometimes wearing a great dress or fun glasses is enough to make people want to start talking to you. Don’t shy away from being a little quirky in the way you dress or in your persona – it will intrigue people and do some of the heavy lifting for you! Just make sure you’re being true to yourself and not going so far out of your comfort zone that you can’t be natural.
Just last week I was in Vegas for a conference, and I had glitter extensions in my hair. It was small and subtle, but so many people commented on them as I walked through the exhibition halls or was sitting playing Black Jack.
And though rocking a sweet fedora may not work in every situation for every person, my point in all of this is that you should care how you look. You don’t have to stand out like a peacock, but make an effort to look polished and pulled together. What you ultimately want is to make sure other people are aware of you and interested in what you have to offer. Then once you get them talking you can wow them with the other things that make you so unique and interesting.
How can you do that? Your goal is to make an impression on people, so pursue multiple different avenues for creating that impression. Work on developing a well-rounded approach to standing out, one where people are aware of you from before the time you meet to after you’ve walked away.
Make a long-lasting impression on your peers by focusing on ways to stand out in person and when you’re not even there. There are tons of resources on how to make an impact, but I’ll share a few of my favorite and most effective ideas with you in the guide below. There are 3 parts I focus on: developing a personal brand, being an interesting conversationalist, and then maintaining those connections.
What do you stand for?
You may have heard of the term personal brand, and it essentially means that you have made an effort to brand yourself the way you would a company. What do people think of when they hear your name? What do you stand for?
A personal brand is really helpful in for standing out in a crowd. The process of deciding what your brand is about will help you pinpoint what qualities and interests you have that are most impactful, and also gives you a platform for interacting with other people. If you’ve decided that your brand is, say, that you’re a funny guy who’s into politics, then that drives how you present yourself to the world and identifies how you are unique.
For me, I have definitely evolved my “brand” – when I first started blogging (and if you scroll back to early posts) I posted a lot of fashion and things I bought (or wanted to buy). However, as I have become less consumerist and spend more of my free time reading about leadership, business, and psychology I have really transitioned into more of “technology and leadership”. But mostly my brand is just me – the things I like, my life experiences, and my interests.
The more you connect with your brand and share it with your network, the more it will grow. Since it is great to have a brand, but it won’t help you stand out if people don’t know it.
This is where the effort comes in:
- Connect with people on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Share links to blog posts and articles on topics that jibe with your brand, or send a message to the author letting them know you’ve enjoyed their story. Build your own network of information and focus on connecting with new people who share your interests.
- Create your own work. Having something to say and sharing it publicly will draw in people who are engaged in your topic or have similar opinions. Build your credibility by publishing your own thoughts on a blog or in guest posts, speaking at conferences, or producing your “art” in whatever medium you choose.
- Be a presence. Attend events that can help you grow your brand. If you are into iOS and objective-C, then attend meetups related to the topic. You can attend networking events, and conferences where you can meet other people who can connect with you on your brand.
Making real connections
How rare is it that you speak with someone who leaves you feeling excited and like you just made a meaningful connection? Unfortunately, all too often, conversations consist of two people talking at each other but not really “getting” each other. You’ll stand out and make a lasting impression if you can make the people you talk to feel like a million bucks when they walk away from your meetings.
- Really listen. This one makes a bigger difference than most people realize. Sometimes I have a hard time not jumping in with my own opinions, but when I make an effort to really listen to people I find that we are both more engaged in the conversation. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk (or worse, interrupt); instead, ask follow-up questions and be comfortable leaving a little silence after a person has stopped talking so they can continue, if they want to.
- Find existing connections. This is where social media and an online presence can help. If you follow someone’s blog or Twitter, you’ll automatically ingratiate yourself to them. People like knowing people already like them, and you’ll also be armed with topics you know interest them to talk about. If the other person is a complete stranger, seek out ways to connect (even if it’s just that you both like the same TV show) and dig deeper on that topic to build a more meaningful conversation.
- Ask interesting questions. People light up when you ask them something they weren’t expecting. At conferences and networking events, most people spend the whole evening answering, “So, what do you do?”. Instead, ask them about hobbies, projects, and personal goals. People spend their free time doing these things because they love them – so get them excited to talk to you by letting them share their passions (not just their day jobs). I also think it helps to stay abreast of current events and new discoveries, these sorts of topics can be great conversation fodder.
- Share your passions. The reverse of the last point is true also – if you share what really gets you excited, you’ll build enthusiasm that’s almost always contagious in your listeners. Are you building your own website? Training for a race? If you’re excited, your audience will be excited; so don’t be shy about something you love. People like to see other people be giddy and passionate about their projects.
- Be a connector. Bringing the right people together is a powerful skill that really makes people take notice of you. Don’t hide all of your smart friends away from each other; introduce people with common interests or projects and help people work together.
- Have a story to tell. People who are talking to you want to hear about YOU. So make sure you are living the kind of life people want to hear about, and being engaged in the world in some way that is meaningful to you. Try volunteering or setting a fitness goal – you’ll impress people by taking initiative to improve your life or the lives of others.
- Try to make someone’s day. I love this idea. Approach every interaction with the idea that you want to leave this person feeling better than they did when you arrived. Suddenly, you’ll be thinking about the conversation in a whole new way! Apply your energy towards giving the other person something, rather than getting something out of it for yourself, and you’ll ensure they remember you fondly (and will want to talk to you again!).
The best way to connect with high profile, exceptional people isn’t to think about what they can do for you – but to focus on what you can do for them.
And resist the urge to judge someone or dismiss the conversation as a fruitless opportunity. I was guilty of this when I first started networking. I wanted to connect with the highest profile, strategic connections because I had limited time. Oh, how wrong I was! In retrospect some of the best connections in my network haven’t been the people with impressive jobs or 100s of connections; but have been the people who have opened doors, introduced me to other like minded people, or been a sounding board for new ideas and personal challenges. When you meet someone, actually get to know him or her. If they are driven, ambitious and smart chances are they are going somewhere and will be a wonderful connection for the future. I am often surprised how special each person can be and I try to approach each situation and meeting as a chance to learn and experience the other person. Changing my view has really opened more doors and relationships than I would have thought possible.
Focus on empowering people and adding value to them in some way. One great way is helping connect other people in your network – and I do this sort of matchmaking a lot for candidates and potential employers. People reach out to me to tell them they are looking for jobs, and I maintain a list (just in Evernote) of open roles at companies where I know the hiring manager. Keep notes about the people you meet, their interests and passions and when you come across something (and article, a product, an event, etc.) that might interest them don’t hesitate to drop them a note about it.
Keep in touch and deepen the relationship. For new people I meet, if I don’t talk with them for long at the meeting I will make a point of scheduling a future meeting – ideally a meal. I once read that sharing a meal with someone else helps build a bond, and paying for someone’s lunch is always a nice treat and great way to add “value”. And of course don’t forget to follow up with people that you meet by adding them on LinkedIn, keeping in touch via email, or taking them out for lunch or coffee if they’re in the same city as you. Take the initiative to connect with people and stay involved with them; that’s how your network becomes truly valuable.
I am sure there are a lot of other good tips to maintain your network, but this is an area I am still working on improving – so feel free to leave ideas or useful links in the comments!
Your network is there so you can use it to empower yourself and the people around you, so take advantage of it. Being the kind of person who makes things happen is the ultimate way to stand out!