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CIO guide to business networking: It's not about you

Looking to win friends and make connections in high places? The most important networking rule to remember is also a pretty simple one: It’s not about you. That’s according to Todd Cohen, author of Everyone’s in Sales and keynote speaker at the recent Premier CIO event in Boston.

If it’s not about you, what is business networking about? “It’s about building a relationship,” Cohen said. “And anyone who goes into networking thinking that it’s anything other than about building a relationship will fail.”

The guide to business networking a là Cohen advises CIOs and senior IT leaders to play the long game. Instead of approaching a networking opportunity in search of instant gratification, consider how to add to a conversation. One of the ways Cohen suggests doing that is to think about secondary network connections: Who from among your colleagues will benefit from getting to know the person you’ve just connected with? Then, take your networking win one step further and make the introduction.
The up-front investment of connecting two people together — especially if the connection is a worthwhile one — may not pay off right away, but the likelihood is that it will eventually. Both people will remember the connection — and remember the connector.

More tips for the CIO from Cohen’s guide to business networking

  • Only attend a networking event if you can “be present,” Cohen said. “If you’re not, everyone will know.”
  • Take the pressure off by making the goals attainable. Rather than doling out a stack of business cards, focus on having two meaningful conversations in an hour. “And a meaningful conversation is nothing more than 10 minutes of talking about something where you both can say, ‘Yeah, that was a nice conversation,'” he said.
  • Create a rapport by talking about your interests. Cohen once met a botany hobbyist who explained that a seemingly healthy looking plant was actually on the verge of dying. “He just got me because he talked about something that was passionate to him,” he said.
  • Join an organization and commit. “You can’t say I’m going to join [a Society for Information Management chapter] and go once,” he said. “You have to go every month because that’s the only way people are going to trust you.”
  • Don’t interrupt a conversation between two people. Instead, focus on someone who is standing alone or groups of three or more people, where it will be easier to get invited into a conversation, he said.
  • End a conversation by asking, “What can I do for you?” Especially if the conversation falls into the “meaningful” category. The comment is unexpected, memorable and opens the door for another interaction, Cohen said.