Unnatural Networker Charlie Lawson gives his top tips for how to network when you’re an introvert.
Charlie Lawson of The Unnatural Networker
Website: The Unnatural Networker
LinkedIn: Charlie Lawson
YouTube: Charlie Lawson
Charlie Lawson is an Unnatural Networker to the core. He speaks about how he went from being a complete non-networker, to being confident to network anywhere, anytime, with anyone. As head of the UK and Ireland’s biggest networking and referral organisation, BNI, he now trains thousands of business people how to do the same.
Most networking experts talk about networking as though it is the easiest thing in the world to go up to people and talk to them. Charlie aims to help other Unnatural Networkers gain confidence to network effectively by putting it across from the point of view of someone who’d rather not be doing it at all.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- Why you don’t need a vocation when you’re just starting out and how you can allow your vocation to come to you
- What networking really is (and how it’s mainly just talking to people)
- Why you can’t expect immediate results when you first meet someone
- How the most important part of networking is referring people to your contacts and why “givers gain”
- Why networking is for everyone, not just those in a business development role
- How to get yourself in the right frame of mind before a networking event and set a goal for yourself for what you want to get out of the event (and what goals not to set)
- What to do when you first arrive at the networking event
- The body language which tells you someone is happy for you to join their conversation
- Why you can start with the person who is checking their smartphone
- How to start a conversation and what to talk about
- How to follow up and why you should do it
- How to choose which events to attend
Resources mentioned in this episode
Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase. This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.
To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.
Episode 45: Networking for introverts - with Charlie Lawson of the Unnatural Networker
Jeremy Cline 0:00
You know you should network, you know that it's important, but you're shy. You're an introvert and frankly you shiver at the idea of going networking. Well, if that describes you, then this episode is just for you. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.
Jeremy Cline 0:30
Hello and welcome to Change Work Life, the podcast that's all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. I've been building up to this episode for a while. The topic of networking has come up so often with my previous guests that I had to do an episode which is dedicated to the subject of networking, and in particular, networking for introverts because I know there's a lot of people out there who just the idea of going networking, it makes them cringe, it makes them shiver - they would rather do anything else but to go to a networking event. Well, it doesn't have to be that way. My guest this week is Charlie Lawson, who is a self-described unnatural networker. And in this interview, he tells us why networking is important. But perhaps most importantly, why it's not so scary and how just about anyone can do it. Here's the interview.
Jeremy Cline 1:23
Hi, Charlie, welcome to the podcast.
Charlie Lawson 1:26
Thank you. How're you doing?
Jeremy Cline 1:27
Very well, thank you. Charlie, can you start with a little bit about your origin story? You've written a book called The Unnatural Networker, yet you are someone who teaches people how to network, presumably do a lot of networking yourself, and you run the UK arm of one of the largest networking groups in the world - Business Networking International. Where did you sort of come from and how did you get into this?
Charlie Lawson 1:47
Yeah, that's a great question. Because when it comes to networking, I am most definitely unnatural. By that I mean a little bit shy, a little bit introverted, a little bit scared of it, honestly - being truthful, whisper it, I don't really like networking. If I could avoid it, I would, and I'd hang out with my mates. That's the starting point. So yes, how did I get to doing networking for a living if I don't really like it. I think the key with it is, and I'm sure we'll get more into this, is that I think there's an approach to networking you can take - where I'd say I don't like networking, it's when you go to those sort of networking events, and you've got to go and mingle with people you don't really know and there's the small talk and you're awkward and all that kind of stuff going on. That's the bit I don't like. Actually networking can be quite fun. You could be networking with people you know really well, we just don't really call it networking. I think that's one of the challenges - we put this term 'networking' on it, you know, on this talking to people to build up relationships to get business hopefully, but in reality, it's just talking to people. That's something that we can all do to a certain extent, and I appreciate some people are better than others, but we can all do it. So where does it come from? I can actually picture the specific - maybe not the specific moment in time, but certainly the specific period of my life where this came from. And to do that I need to delve back to when I was probably in my late teenage years, 16, 17, 18 - that sort of age. The way I'd describe myself at that point was very awkward, very shy. A lot of people go through sort of growing pains if you like, when it comes to their teenage years. I was definitely shy when it came to talking to people, chatting to girls and stuff like that, you know, just the normal stuff that teenagers are doing. And I can particularly picture a time or many times this will have happened in my family scenario - two parents, close family, two sisters and myself. So there were five of us, and I can picture or the scene that comes to mind is a weekend dinner time. So a meal, family meal at dinner time, maybe a roast dinner or something like that, you know, when it's the weekend, it's relaxed, you're not rushing off to go and do something else. Everyone sort of sitting chatting and talking, and then everyone has their own roles - or everyone had in my family at least - different roles in that scenario. You'd have my eldest sister - very bright, really intelligent. And she'd always engage in some sort of what I would perceive at the time as quite high level discussion about whatever was going on in the world, who knows, whatever it was about. And she would typically engage my dad more than anyone else. And they'd have quite a high level conversation. My mum would join in to a certain extent, my younger sister would join in to a certain extent - I never did, though. I always found it really quite hard to put myself into the conversation because if I said something, it would come straight back at me. My sister was very bright as I said, and she would kind of not shut me down, but I wasn't confident to put myself forward in that situation. And effectively, my role in the family was, or became - was my role was the mickey-taker. I was the one who kind of chucked in silly comments or took the mickey out of people. And that was my role in the family, but what that meant was, as I went out into the world, is I didn't feel confident in putting myself forward, putting myself across. Talking to people, talking to strangers in particular because I'd always worry that they were going to shut me down - not tell me to keep quiet or something, but they would always have something to say that would then make me unconfident in terms of what I was saying, you know, the natural back and forth of the conversation. Honestly, I don't find conversations that easy, particularly when it comes to talking to strangers where I don't know what their response is going to be. I don't know how they're going to react what I say. And I think that's at the root for me, or is my 'why' if you like, why I do what I do now, why I'm passionate and believe that networking is a really good thing to do. I know it is. I've seen so many examples of where it's worked for people. And yet there are people out there in the big wide world who just are either shy or a little bit introverted, a bit like me. I don't want them to have the same thing. I don't want them to feel they can't go and talk to people. They can't go and get their opinion across. I think for me that's probably where it stems from.
Jeremy Cline 6:03
In terms of your career, did you throw yourself immediately into something where networking was a big part of it, recognising that in your teenage years, or did you start out in - I'm going to pick something ridiculously stereotypical, like you know, IT programming where you just sort of sit in a cubicle and don't talk to anyone?
Charlie Lawson 6:22
It's funny, you should say, that! I'll explain - I went to a good school, I went to university I did okay. I mean, I was never top of the tree, I was always okay. I probably learned how to work when I was at university. I really applied myself probably from then, I didn't do so much when I was at school. But I thought, and because lots of people did this, I thought you were supposed to have a vocation. I thought that was the thing. Everyone I knew was going to go off and be something, some were going to be doctors, some wanted to be a lawyer. So I'm going to do this, whatever it was. And so I thought, well, I'm gonna have one of these vocations then and, and for some reason, I picked IT. It's funny you should you should say that. When I graduated, I went into IT. I initially worked in a couple of small businesses doing fairly low level stuff, but quite enjoyed that. And then I got a graduate job with an IT consultancy firm, which I'll be honest, was terrible. I didn't enjoy it at all. It was one of those ones where they actually gave you a sort of golden hello, if you like. So when you signed up on the graduate scheme, they gave you a bonus. And the thing is, that then tied you in for at least a couple of years, as it was then. And I knew within a day or two that I wasn't gonna last there very long. But I was then stuck there for two years. I mean, I could have paid it back, but effectively, you know, the bonus had paid off student debts and all that sort of thing. I was there for two years. I'll be honest, I had no clue what I was doing. I can picture being on this project. It was for - I'm not sure if I'm allowed to mention brand names?
Jeremy Cline 7:52
This is not the BBC so yeah!
Charlie Lawson 7:54
I just wanted to check the protocol! I was on a project for Sainsbury's supermarket. I wasn't working for Sainsbury's - it was a consultancy, Sainsbury's were the client - and I remember just sitting at my desk at times, and there were all these people around me just tapping away and I had literally no clue I was doing. I don't know, I can't honestly say why they employed me. I must have done something for them, but I'm struggling to recall what was it was. And I just felt totally my depth. And what I found was - I'm in a very lucky position now and I appreciate not everyone's in this position where I wake up on a Monday morning and I'm like, great, I'm going to work today. I remember when I was there, I was counting down to the days to the weekend or if I knew I was going on holiday, I'd think 'two more weeks before I go on holiday.' You literally just counted it down. I realised I was going to be out of IT pretty soon. I actually had an opportunity, it was at that point I went into networking. A lot of BNI's membership organisations, a lot of people ask me, so you were a member of a chapter - what was your business when you joined? And I didn't actually join as a member, I had a family connection to the business, and I came in as a franchisee. So I became a business owner. I was in my late 20s at the time, 27 I think, when I came into BNI. I bought a franchise. At that point, I started to understand what networking is. I didn't realise this unnatural networker thing until a bit later on. Initially I came in, and I thought it was it was a great business, and it is still is a great business. And what I love about what we do now is actually it's less on the back of the business or it still is, it's more on the community impact we make - the difference we make and you see people grow their business and honestly change their lives through what they do, through networking. So I love seeing that effect that we have. But that's a bigger, bigger question. Definitely, I wasn't set to come into networking because I love networking, put it that way. But I thought I needed a vocation, IT was it, I don't know why I made that decision, with all due respect to anyone who's in IT - it's not my world.
Jeremy Cline 9:57
But it's one of the things when you're at university, you haven't had experience of anything, so you don't really know what anything is like. It's interesting what you say about Business Networking International. Certainly a previous guest on the podcast has been singing its praises. He also spent a number of years in IT and then trained as a hypnotherapist, and he uses BNI to build his practice. Yeah, Adrian Muxwell. I'll stick a link to the episode in the show notes. You touched on it when we started, I think one of the things that people do fear about networking is their perception of what it is. So perhaps you could talk a little bit more about what networking actually is versus how people perceive it to be.
Charlie Lawson 10:38
Well, everyone's told you you've got to go networking. You set up a business, you've got to get the phone to ring. 'Go networking' you're told. Or you're in a sales role or your boss says to you, you've got to go networking. Okay, what does that mean? And I definitely think a lot of people have an issue with it. They don't understand what it is. This thing where you go out with your business cards and you're supposed to come back and create business - I mean, that's what's supposed to happen, but it's not that simple. Well in reality it is very simple what networking is, but it doesn't work necessarily in the way that people think it's going to if they're not doing it right. I think the biggest thing that people get wrong about networking is they try and expect an immediate result. Going networking tomorrow, right - I'm gonna get the phone ringing, clients ringing, potential prospects coming in straight away. It doesn't work like that, because networking is essentially just relationship building. Nothing more than that. And I touched on it before, that we put this word networking as a badge on it. But in reality, all it is is talking to people. That's it. It's talking to people, it's getting to know people, and when you get to know people - think of your best mate. If they called you at 3am, would you answer the phone? You probably would, because you've got a good relationship with them. I mean, obviously, it's probably something they need help with if they're calling you at 3am, it means they're very drunk or whatever it might be, but you'll do what they need, because you've got a good relationship. Now, I'm not suggesting you go networking to receive calls at 3am, of course not, but when you build relationships with people, you get friendly with them, you get close to them, you want to help them, they want to help you. And that's when the results come from networking. So what is it, honestly, it's talking to people. Nothing more than that. Building relationships with people, hopefully, in time, getting to do business through them. That's one of the other key things that people get wrong about networking. They think you're going networking to do business with the people you meet. Now that may happen, you may well sign up someone you meet as a client. May happen, of course it will, but - that shouldn't be the starting point. The starting point is thinking, build a relationship with that person, get to know them. And then the key is who do they know. So you know, in life, you've got the the expression in life is not what you know, it's who you know - everyone's heard that expression. It's obvious. Well, I say, it's not what you know, and it's not who you know, it's who they know, and how well do you know them? Because if you know someone well, and they know the people you want to do business with or get access to, well, then there's a chance they might refer you. And what we're really looking for when it comes to networking is I think what we call referrals. Now a referral is when I get referred in to a third party, because we've got a good relationship. So take you and I, let's say we've got to know each other well through networking, you have a whole load of contacts, I have a whole load of contacts, you're particularly interested in talking to one of my contacts. What I'll do is say, right, Bob, whatever the person's name is, Bob, you need to speak to Jeremy, he's great. This is why you need to speak to him. He's fantastic. He'll help you with x, y and z. And then Bob's not just saying meh, shall I speak to him? He's saying give me Jeremy's number, I want to speak to him - he's actively wanting to talk to you. That compares to what some people think is a referral but we call it more of a lead - it's where I say to you, without having talked to Bob, I'd say Jeremy you should talk to Bob, he's definitely interested in the product. But when you call him up, Bob's like, 'Sorry, who are you?' There's no introduction there, there's no effectively warming up for interest. So in a referral it definitely has to be three people. There's the two people that are passing and receiving the referral. And then there's the third party that is having their need met by a product or whatever it might be. But it's when that referral's done properly, that networking really starts to work. This is where so many people go wrong with it. They think, right I've got to do business, in this case, it would be me going I've met you Jeremy at networking, so I need to do business with you. And that's not always going to happen.
Jeremy Cline 14:38
So we've talked about doing business and building business and that sort of thing. The question is, who should be networking? And why I asked that is if you're in a role, where you're not sort of in business development, you're in an office job where you look at spreadsheets all day or that sort of thing. Someone in that position, should they just be thinking, oh well, you know, I'm not selling anything. I'm not looking to build a business. So, networking, why do I need to bother?
Charlie Lawson 15:08
I think your approach to networking would be slightly different. Clearly, if you're in a not in a business development role, you're not being recognised for bringing in new clients, then probably it's going to be less worthwhile going networking than than it is if you are in a pure, let's say, a sales or business development role. That said, though, there are definitely reasons why you would go networking if you're not in a business development role. Number one, think about your own career. Do you want to be doing the exact role you're in right now forever? Hopefully people want to advance, people want to move forward and you can certainly network and get to know the right people in your own company, in your own industry. Forget selling to anyone, you're just selling yourself to them in terms of being the right person who might be able to move up the career ladder and move forward. Equally I would say that even if you're not in a business development role specifically, if you were doing some networking and building your skills in relationships terms it can't hurt for starters, because you'll probably do better in your career. But also, if you did start to bring in one or two opportunities, what would your firm think of you then? So if you built a relationship with someone who happened to need your company services, and you passed that on to the business development team, how's that gonna look? How's that gonna help you? It's probably worth mentioning here, the founding philosophy of BNI, my organisation, it might be our founding philosophy, but it's something that just applies in life in general, we call it givers gain. If you want to get something from your network, you've got to be prepared to give something. You can't have a sort of take-all approach. You've got to be prepared to give. And if you're prepared to give and keep giving, keep giving - something's going to come back to you. In the real world we probably call this what goes around comes around. You know, you help someone else, you scratch their back, they'll scratch yours. It's kind of that approach. So I think there's a lot of benefit to going networking, building relationships and trying to find opportunities, just help other people out. If you can help people out, they're going to look at you more favourably, they're going to try and help you, they'll help you move forward with whatever moving forward looks like to you. Be that business development or be that something else.
Jeremy Cline 17:01
Just wanted to explore this a little bit further. I mean, if you are in a role where networking isn't expected, and you're not even sure how you start it. I mean, take my profession, I'm a lawyer. It's expected of me to go to events, to talk to other lawyers other professionals, other intermediaries, to network and all that sort of thing. But take our support staff, secretaries, personal assistants, that sort of thing. It's not expected of them and it's just not something that comes up. So if someone who's in that position, listens to what you're saying, and thinks, well hang on. Yeah, I can see networking is going to be useful for me, how do they approach it if they're in something where it's not really expected of them. It would almost be a little bit odd.
Charlie Lawson 18:05
Yeah, I can certainly see where it will appear odd if let's say a support secretary or support staff or whatever went to a specific industry event to generate business. That would be slightly strange because you know, their boss would probably look at them saying, why are you doing that? I need you to do this in the office. So I totally accept that. This is where I bring it back to what networking really is - in reality, it's just talking to people. Some people say to me, I never go networking. I say, Well, have you got any friends? Have you ever had a dinner party? Have you ever been down the pub and had a drink with a few people and you get chatting to other people as well? You're not always going to be in your tight circle where you don't talk to anyone. You going to spend time talking to other people as well. And I think networking is just talking to people. So let's say you're down the pub or you're around a friend's for dinner. You don't necessarily know everyone there. Could you build relationships with people there that would help you move your career forward in some way? Who knows. I'm not saying there's going to be a direct sales benefit to the firm to bring in a new client. Could it be someone who might offer you opportunities? Could it be someone who could help the firm in some way? Could it be that it helps you with your next career development move? There's all sorts of benefits that can come out of being comfortable to talk to strangers and get to know people and build relationships.
Jeremy Cline 19:23
Your book is called The Unnatural Networker. So what's a natural networker look like?
Charlie Lawson 19:29
Well, I call natural networkers weirdos honestly - no I'm joking. I will give a comparison by referring to an old colleague of mine. This was back when I was in the IT days, but I can picture her. Girl called Nicola, I got on really well with her. We had good fun. It was a small office at this stage, before I was in the consultancy, which I really hated. I'll give you a little bit more context. I used to work for a company called the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. You can do exams in wine and spirits basically if you're in the hospitality sector, work in hotels or in restaurants or you're a sommelier - in those kinds of industries. And I was doing it in IT but this company are based in London, they're still there, you can go and basically do courses and exams, in wine and spirits. It may be because sometimes the networking events we went to involved wine, maybe there was a slight factor there, but I can picture Nicola when we went to the networking events, and she'd be one of those people - who ever heard the phrase working the room? She would literally move around everybody. She would shake hands with people, she would greet them, she'd say hello to them, have a little chat. Next one, next one, next one - and she'd get round everyone. Can you picture the sort of cartoon whirlwind, the cartoon character, where their legs go round and they're all over! And I looked at her and I just thought I just can't do that! It just just freaks me out. That's when I started to really look at it and understand what was going on, that's when I realised I was a bit more unnatural. She was a natural networker, she was just comfortable connecting people, making conversation, just getting round lots people. I used to comfort myself by thinking there's no way she'll remember everyone. I mean, I can't. I just couldn't get my head around it. But the next day we'd be in office, she'd say 'Oh did you meet so and so?' And she just did remember everyone. Wow, I just don't know how you do that. She's what I would call a natural networker. She's just very comfortable with it and very at ease chatting to people. I'll give you another example of a natural networker. My other half, Hannah, she loves talking. She's a great conversationalist. She's jokes that I have a word limit in my day. Sometimes I'll come home in the evening and you know, you'll chat a bit, and then I'll get to the point where honestly, I'm just tired and I just need to just relax and chill out. She jokes that I've hit my word limit for the day. I can't process any more words, not just in terms of saying them but in terms of receiving them as well. But Hannah's the natural conversationalist, she looks for opportunities. She's questioning, she's thinking more, she's empathising. She's doing all sorts of good conversation stuff I have to really think about and it's not maybe such a natural thing for me. That's a natural networker. When it comes to unnatural, I'm definitely one of these. I'm a little bit shy, a little introverted, I don't find it easy to go and talk to people. When I get into a conversation, it's fine. Honestly, I can talk to people - we're all human beings, it's not not a problem. But let's say I'm at a networking event with lots of people I don't know and you're trying to get round and talk to a few people. When I'm in that conversation I'm then thinking I've got to go and talk to someone else. When this conversation is obviously wrapping up, I'm feeling the nerves again, because I've got to go and talk to someone else. The difference between myself and Nicola let's say - the extrovert who is talking to everyone - is that I will perhaps speak to less people. So in an event she might have spoken to 25 people, I'll speak to 5 people. Just as an example, she'll have spoken to those 25 people for 20, 30 seconds each. I'll have spoken to those five people for five minutes each, just as an example. And what it probably means is I've got to know those five better than she's got to know those 25. Is there a right and a wrong way? No, it's just a different way of doing it. They're both networking. Given the goal of networking is to build relationships with people through conversation, you can argue I'm probably actually doing it better. I'm not saying that there is a better or worse, there isn't a right or wrong here, it's just an argument - you could say, actually, introverts network just as well as extroverts. They're just doing it differently. Does that make sense?
Jeremy Cline 23:28
Yeah, and the difference between being an introvert and being an extrovert - because I had another guest on my podcast, Alexandra Galviz, who said that being an introvert and being shy aren't necessarily the same things. And the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is whether they gain energy from talking to people or lose energy from talking to people - or it takes energy.
Charlie Lawson 23:49
Well, I agree with that entirely. Coming back to my other half Hannah, when she says I've hit my word limit it is exactly that. I need to regain my energy by having some quiet time and just relaxing, maybe going to sleep. But it's about where you get your energy from. I totally agree with her.
Jeremy Cline 24:07
So let's talk some practical tips that people can implement, particularly if they've been thrust into a situation where they weren't expecting to have to do any kind of networking. But they come to understand that it is expected of them, and there's some event coming up, and they're expected to go to it. And they are utterly terrified. What are some of the first steps that they can do to get themselves into a better more positive frame of mind about it?
Charlie Lawson 24:35
Yeah, absolutely. Great question. And in some ways, it's definitely the right thing to do. Coming up to the event, that's the time to think about it. Because I think if you just get there and dive in then a) that might be hard to do, because you feel nervous about just diving in, and it probably means you're not going to get anything out of it as well, because you won't approach it with any sort of a formal strategy. So I always think it's a good idea to strategize what you're going to do. So let's say event's coming up next week, first thing I do is set myself a goal. And the goal has to be what you're going to get out of it. The thing is, some people when they set a goal, they don't do this quite right - they think right I'm going to come out of it with five opportunities for the business, for argument's sake. But you're setting yourself up for failure if you do that, because you can't guarantee that's gonna happen. What if there just aren't five people there who would be decent people to do business with? You can't. And like I said earlier, it's not about doing business with the people there, it's about getting access to the contacts. So it just doesn't work as a way of doing it. Best goal I always set is to say, right, I'm going to go meet - pick a number here, it could be one could be 2, could be 5 could be 10. Doesn't really matter - but pick a number of people that you're going to meet. And 5 is a good number, I've used that plenty of times. I'd say I'm going to go and meet five new people. I'm gonna have 5 conversations with 5 people that I don't know. When I set that as my goal, a couple of things happen - one, it makes it more worthwhile when I do get there. I do generally say well, I'm gonna have my 5. You know what sometimes I sneak in a sixth, but generally I have my five conversations. So I meet five people, and I have good conversations with them. But also honestly, it gets me there in the first place. Because when I don't have that goal, and I just do the thing and dive in, I haven't prepared and I just go and try and talk to people. I often just don't talk. I've even been in situations - let's say the events in a hotel, you get into the hotel and see the room where it's on, and I've just hung back and sat in the lobby and just waited for the next thing I'm going to do. I haven't gone in because I just feel that nervous about it. Set a goal is the first thing I do, and that goal should be the number of people you want to speak to.
Jeremy Cline 26:35
So is it literally just as simple as a numerical goal - I will meet x number of people, or is it also the time to start thinking about what you might want out of these meetings in these interactions? Or do you not think about that?
Charlie Lawson 26:49
No, I genuinely don't think of them like that, because how do I know who I'm going to meet? I mean, you said you're a lawyer, so you go to a legal event sometimes, probably you know what types of people you're going to meet, I guess you can probably strategize slightly there. But many networking events, it's pretty random, honestly. And that's kind of the beauty of it. You never know what's going to happen when you meet people. How do you know where it's going to lead? You don't know what connections are going to come out of it. So genuinely, I really do keep it very simple. Just go and talk to 5 people. I think the key then is to actually go and do it. The first person is always the hardest. How do you get into that first conversation? The key there is there's a couple of things. I always think when you go to a networking event, you kind of see that buzz of people all over there, they're all networking. I always think they know what they're doing. They look so comfortable about it. Fact is, most of them, a few minutes previously, when they stepped over the threshold into the room, they were like, I don't know what's going on here, apart from those weirdos who are natural networkers. So you've just got to get into that conversation. Key thing to look for here is body language. You'll see some people who are quite sort of close front face-to-face body language. Don't try and interrupt into that sort of conversation because their body language - they're not doing this deliberately, but subconsciously they're saying don't interrupt. Look for people who are more side-to-side. You might have to still interrupt conversation, I guess, I agree. But if people are side-to-side, a bit more open in their body language, they're actually saying you know I'm having a good conversation but I don't mind if someone joins. Look for that body language. That said, there's an even more obvious person to go and speak to, I can show you how you do it, it's a very simple thing. I'm waving my phone here, you can't see this on a podcast, but you all know what a smartphone looks like. The smartphone was not designed to get access to the internet, make calls and do all the things that smartphones can do. They are designed for one thing only, as far as I'm concerned, and that's to help unnatural networkers not look like a lemon at a networking event. So you will see it at any network event you go, I promise it, just have a look around. You'll see someone checking their emails, now I promise you, they're not checking their emails because if they actually had to go and do some work and check their emails they'd go and sit in a quiet place and do that where they're not gonna be interrupted, they're looking at their phone, because they're not talking to someone and they'd like someone to come talk to them. So I always say they're the best people to go and speak to two reasons. Number one, even if you go into someone with open body language, you still have to sort of thrust into a conversation, if you like, there's no conversation to interrupt when you're talking to someone on their own, because they're not talking to anyone, so it's much easier to go up and say hello. And the second reason is, because they're an unnatural networker, likely as not - because the extrovert, a natural networker would just go off and talk to the next person. You're pretty much guaranteed they are. It probably means they're being a bit nervous, they're feeling a bit unsure of themselves, and actually by you going and talking to talk to them, what are they going to feel? They're beginning to feel quite relieved, quite happy - someone's talking to me, great! And that just makes them more open to building relationships. It's the first step in building a relationship, even before you've said anything almost. Yeah, I would definitely advise looking for people who are holding their phone. They're not playing Candy Crush, they're not checking their emails. They're looking for someone to talk to. They're a great person to go and speak to.
Jeremy Cline 29:58
And what's your opener? Because the whole 'Hello, so what do you do?' It's a bit boring. You're not exactly gonna make an impression with that sort of opener. Or is that just the way to go? Because that's the way everyone starts. Can you do it better than that?
Charlie Lawson 30:11
You can't dive into some random question, do you like diving? It would be a bit weird to do that. You know what my opener is? Hello, my name is Charlie. It's original. It's amazing. I know, it's not rocket science, and you might want to insert your own name. But yeah, seriously. Hi, I'm Charlie. That's all the opener it needs. I think finding out what they do soon is quite important because it gives some context to the conversation. But you're right. It's not an interesting question. So I want to move very swiftly on to a more interesting question. The one I particularly like is how did you get into what you do? Or what's great about what you do? Because then it gets to be excited about it. Especially when people are a bit sort of nonplussed about their profession. Maybe they've been in a bit of a rut and they're not particularly excited about it anymore. Go back to why they got into in the first place, they'll probably be quite animated and excited and it builds a better conversation. You do need to find out what they do, you can't really avoid that. But yeah, try and ask more interesting questions, open questions, what, how, why - those kind of words to get into a better conversation.
Jeremy Cline 31:18
So the aim in this is so that they remember you. And a book I'm reading at the moment, it's a blogger who goes to a blogging conference - sit down and talk to the people around them, and everyone says, so what's your blog about? What's your blog about? And then there's the person who said, Oh, yeah, I left my wife and six month old daughter to come to this conference, how about you? And he remembered him, stayed in touch with him. And that's got to be part of what it's about. Remember who you are.
Charlie Lawson 31:46
Definitely. Remember what we talked about before, we want to get referrals - it's not just about going to talk to people for the sake of talking to people. It's about going to get some you know, opportunities to connect with third parties. But yeah, the best thing I can suggest doing - I haven't used a line like I've left my wife and six children to be here! But interesting, it would certainly probably mean you're more remembered and stand out - my suggestion is don't always talk about work. Try and find some common connection between you that is totally separate from whatever you do professionally. I call it getting to know stuff about them. I'll give you an example. This is not someone I met for the first time, but it's someone I'd known over a period of time, probably a year or so. And I knew who he was, it was a guy called Tony, I got to know him fairly well. And I knew he actually wanted a referral in to a school near me, he ran a print company, and he wanted to a referral into the school. I could help him with this because someone I know is on school governors board, I'd have to work a bit but I could probably get an in for him if I wanted to. Thing is I'd never done it, just never never made it happen. What changed though one time was when me and Tony sat - and it wasn't a formal networking - it was more over a coffee, just one on one, and we started talking about stuff. We didn't talk about work at all. We actually talked about formula one. I'm an F1 fan, it doesn't matter if you are or aren't, but we got into a big discussion about whether Lewis Hamilton - pretty successful F1 driver - is the best of all time. He had one view, I had another. Doesn't really matter where that was. But the point was, we had a connection, because we were both into Formula One. And we had a long conversation about it, had a big argument about it and all sorts, but that's fine. You know what happened the next time I saw my mate who was the governor at the school? I made the referral happen. And I questioned in my mind what had changed. I've known this guy for a while, and I'd known he wanted to get into the school for a while, but I'd never done anything about it. And I think the key is, is because I knew some stuff about him, we had that connection. So my advice in any networking conversation, even first time meeting at a sort of mixer event, where you're talking to lots of people, is try and find some sort of connection between what are they into, have they been on holiday in the same place as you, are they into the same sort of thing? Just find some sort of connection between you. And that means it'll be far more memorable when it comes to recalling the conversation you had.
Jeremy Cline 34:08
And having said all that, particularly if it's the first time you've met them - you've had your in depth conversation about Formula One, having discovered a mutual love. How do you then work in what it is that they should take away from you so that they know that you are a useful person in this particular area should they have a referral? I mean, they might know that you're into F1, but they might not know what you do for a living and how you can help someone else?
Charlie Lawson 34:30
Appreciate you've got a few steps here. So I'll give you an example of how this would work. And like I say that was in a more easy setting to just chat about stuff. So open networking event, I can picture an event I was at recently, and I was just asking people, so what are you into when you're not doing whatever it is you do, what are you into? You find all sorts of connections. I'm quite into triathlon myself, so I immediately find someone who's into triathlon, which is another benefit by the way - you might have a more interesting conversation, because you're when you're actually talking at the network event, you're talking about something you're both interested in. So it makes for a better conversation - more animated, more enjoyable. Here's how I work it, it's when it comes to the follow up that this is important. Remember, at the networking event, you're not going to do anything business wise yet, you're just building a relationship. And there's a key point there - you can't do business with someone at a networking event, typically, because no one ever goes to a networking event with intention of buying anything. So it's pointless to go and try and sell to them. So all I've done is build a relationship. And all I've done is agree, this is where it comes into the dark art of follow up - the key to making networking work, and any one can do this - and I would argue that unnatural networkers can become great networkers if they just do this bit right. What follow-up means is doing what you said you're going to do, simply. And that could be well, we said we're going to meet for coffee. So let's meet for a coffee. I said I was gonna email you something, so I'll email it. I said, Well, I'll put you in touch with someone. Just do what you said you're going to do basically. If I've just met someone at a networking event and I kind of think yeah, this is someone I want to get to know. You know that doesn't happen with everyone clearly. There's some people it's just like nice conversation, great, maybe you swap business cards, maybe you don't - but you know you're not gonna pursue that with with lots of energy. But there's other people you meet and think that's an industry I want to get involved in, or they've got likely contacts that would be good for me. If I want to build a relationship with them, I'll spend a bit more time trying to do so. So when I follow up with them, it'll probably just be a LinkedIn connection request. Whatever you do, don't send the generic LinkedIn one, always personalise it, and always personalise it referencing the stuff that you talked with them about. So when I connect on LinkedIn, I'll say Oh, John, great to meet you at xyz event, whatever it was, thought we should connect on here. I'd love to catch up with you more about triathlon or whatever it was that you were talking about, because then it shows a) that you were listening, it will probably be a conversation that they remember because it will be mired in amongst all sorts of other tedious conversations about what do you do and how long you've been doing it, do you come here often, those kinds of questions. So they'll remember the conversation and then it builds the relationship because you get talking about the thing that connects you, the stuff that you're interested in. Over time then that relationship builds. I might then a bit later go and meet up for coffee and we'll chat about it again, and we'll build that relationship. You see how that works. It kind of takes time, you're not going to do it there and then at an event or the first time you meet.
Jeremy Cline 37:18
You talked a bit about strategy at an event and goal setting and that sort of thing. What about choosing the event? There are some people who will turn up to the opening of an envelope. I know of another lawyer who said, Yes, I do do that and that's because I'm a business owner, I'm building my profile and all that sort of thing. And I probably used to do that but I tend to be a bit more circumspect now about which networking events I go to, and which I don't. Have you got any thoughts about how you choose which ones are worth going to and which ones aren't?
Charlie Lawson 37:47
Yeah, there's different ones. I mean, there's probably three broad sectors of events, I would say. They're not just events, they just networks in general. I would say you've got ones where they're general business ones. Be that, you know, a sort of general networking mixer or one a bit more like a BNI that I'm involved with, which is specific - but still lots of people from different industries. That's one type of event. You've got another type of event, typically industry events - you mentioned you're in the legal profession earlier, that would probably be where everyone would come together, all within legal, and is probably less to do with business development, more on just keeping up with the industry and knowing the latest trends. And the other one I've referred to is online, LinkedIn, for example. But there's others. They're all networking. It's not an event online, but it's exactly the same principles as you take to go into networking at an event. You still want to build relationships, you don't want to hard sell to people, you still want to get to know people to find stuff between you - all that kind of thing. For some that's great to keep up with latest trends in the industry. For some going to a more specific business generating event is better because that's where they know they're going to get the best chance of meeting their potential referral partners. For some online is great. I think a mix between those three is the best approach. But yeah, I would pick and choose which ones I go to.
Jeremy Cline 39:09
Charlie, I'm conscious that we're running up against our time slot. In terms of obviously, there's your book - do you have any other tools or resources that people can use to help them with this subject?
Charlie Lawson 39:21
I do. I have a monthly newsletter on unnatural networking that comes out to close to the start of every month. If you connect with me via social media you can subscribe to that, or via my website. The other one is, I should say, just giving myself some public accountability here - my second book is well underway. It's mostly written, it's called the Unnatural Promoter. I'm an unnatural networker because I don't sell myself very well. I often find myself in a situation where if I'm in front of a potential client then it's fine, I can just talk openly. It's getting the opportunities in the first place, because I don't promote myself well enough. So can't tell you exactly when it's going to be out, but probably later on this year, the Unnatural Promoter will be another resource for people to refer to.
Jeremy Cline 40:06
Fantastic. And where can people find you to find out more about you or to sign up to your newsletter?
Charlie Lawson 40:11
I think LinkedIn is the best place - look for Charlie Lawson on LinkedIn. Or you can go to my website, unnaturalnetworker.com.
Jeremy Cline 40:19
I will link to all those in the show notes. Charlie, thank you for your time on this topic. It's been absolutely brilliant.
Charlie Lawson 40:25
Pleasure. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.
Jeremy Cline 40:27
Thanks. Well, I hope you enjoyed that episode, and perhaps more so that you found it useful. I love the fact that basically Charlie was saying networking is not that scary. It is something that people have a real hang up about, but as Charlie said, it's just about talking to people. It's about building relationships. And I love the fact that he was saying how networking is more about who you can introduce someone to. So it's not necessarily about doing business with the person that you're talking to, but it's about who in your network you can introduce them to and vice versa. He also had some brilliant practical tips. I love the one about finding the person who's on their smartphone and going to talk to that person. Because I've actually been that person. I recognise that, there's an awful lot of truth in what Charlie was saying. And as someone who recognises himself as an introvert, yeah, I recognised a lot of what Charlie was saying. It can sap your energy, I do even now still get to an event and think, Oh, I'd really rather not go to this. But almost every time I get something out of the event, I enjoy going to it, I meet some interesting people and yeah, I actually have quite a good time. Show Notes for this episode are at changeworklife.com/45 for Episode 45. And if this episode has been useful for you, if you've enjoyed it, please I would love you to leave a review either on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. If you can leave a review, an honest review, I do like honest five star reviews, it has to be said, it would mean so much to me because it really will help other people find the show. And if it's been useful for you, it's going to be useful for other people. Next week it's going to be a catch up episode. One of the first people I interviewed was Annie Dehaney-Stephen, who at the time of recording was just about to start her own business, her own online tutoring business, and I thought it was about time to get her back on and find out what had happened. So it's really interesting to hear from her to find out what has happened. So do stick around and listen to that episode and I can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye
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