How to Connect With Powerful and Influential People

At Awesomeness Fest in Playa del Carmen, I delivered this keynote:

[Below is an edited transcript. There is also an audio version available for streaming and download at the bottom.]

[By the way, if--after watching this video--you'd like additional help putting these steps into action, in a way that is relevant and tailored to your particular situation, check out my page "I Will Build Your Network"]

You think you’re here right now for a just little dose of awesomeness. Actually, what you’re here for is a religious conversion. The particular religion of which I’m a missionary—and I’m going to convert every last one of you—is the religion of connecting with powerful and influential people. Everything good in my life has come through this power. The most important connection in my life, to my wife Jena, came through a mutual connection. My book deals have come through connections. Most of what has happened in my business life has come through connections. I’m going to share some secrets with you that are going to “super sauce” this power in your life.

There’s one really important distinction you have to understand if you want to be good at this skill, and bring all the benefits that I’ve already mentioned into your life. It’s a distinction between two types of networking: the “right” way, and the “wrong” way. My guess is that a lot of you are unconsciously networking the wrong way, because a lot of people do this.

The wrong way is a kind of “taker” mentality, where you walk into the room and assess who is the most influential, or who has something you want. Who has the list/website/investment dollars you want access to? And then you go and try to get that from them.

In preparing for this talk I did some research, and found some shocking statistics about this. Here’s a headline that comes from one of our nation’s most trusted news sources, The Onion. 89% of Networking is Non-Consensual.” [Laughter] It goes on to explain,  “’The details vary, but in each case the victims described how ordinary chit chat rapidly escalated to terrifyingly detailed conversations about skill sets and career paths,’ said sociology professor Thomas Raybeck, the study’s lead researcher. ‘Even though most of the respondents said they began to feel uneasy and sensed that something was wrong, it usually happened so quickly that by the time they fully comprehended the situation, it was too late to escape.’”

Has anyone been a victim of this type of networking? We all know it; we wouldn’t laugh if it wasn’t true. They also have a few safety tips for networking: “Mace or pepper spray can disable a networker long enough for you to flee, or knock the portfolio out of his hand . . . Always walk with purpose, this will make a networker hesitate before asking for a name he can use, so he can go around the general Human Resources email.” So that’s the wrong way to network. I’m going to teach you the right way.

If the wrong way has to do with taking, the right way is the opposite. It has to do with giving. Not giving so you can get something in return. Just giving, period. You might ask, “What do I have to give a powerful, influential person? They’re powerful, influential, rich and famous. They have everything they could want already!” What I’m here to teach you is that you actually have two very powerful things that you can give to people you want to connect with, that even rich and influential people want and need.The first thing is advice, and the second thing is other connections.

You might think, “Michael, you’re crazy. How could I give a famous person advice? They’re the ones I want advice from.” Actually, I learned a really important lesson about this (over the course of meeting all these rich and influential people) that I want to share with you now.

Often when we meet a rich or famous person, or someone who is very powerful, we tend to cower in front of them like they are a god or goddess. We think, “This person is so powerful. I’m not worthy.” And that’s about the worst attitude you can have if you want to be good at this. They get it ALL the time. I’ve hung out with these people. I’ve been in café’s with them. People walk up with that kind of “Oh my gosh, can I have your autograph?” approach. And I can tell you right now that attitude isn’t going to get you very far.

The attitude you want to have is that this person is actually a human being. They’re not a god. They’re not a goddess. They are just a normal human being. And because they are a human being, they have problems. Is there anyone in this room who has no problems whatsoever? If so, I want to meet you and find out your secrets! No, the fact is, we all have problems.

One of my mentors, Eben Pagan, says that there are three basic areas of life that people really care about: money, relationships and health. I would add a fourth, which is spirituality/purpose/meaning. So there are four areas that people care about a lot. In my experience, no one has all four of those areas handled exactly the way they want. Often people are very successful financially, but their relationships are a mess, or their health is a mess. They may have one or two of those areas handled, but rarely all four.

The key here is to offer in areas where you have some relative strengths, and where the person you want to connect with might need some help. Each one of you has an area where it’s very likely that you can offer a lot of help to people around you, including powerful and influential people.

I happen to be a book-writer. I’ve devoted my entire adult life to writing books and being immersed in the book industry. I know a lot about books, and I’m constantly talking to people about the books they might want to write. In fact, just this morning I asked Vishen, “Are you going to write a book?” And he said, “One day.” I’ve never met someone who doesn’t want to write a book. So this is an area where I have a relative strength, and can offer value to all of you, including powerful and influential people.

When I’m talking to people, I tend to steer the conversation toward books. I call this the home court advantage. I don’t know anything about movies, and I’ve never been in the movies. So if I’m talking to a movie star, I don’t say, “Oh you’re a movie star. That’s so amazing. I love your movie. Blah blah blah.” Because they already have what they need in that area. They don’t need me in order to be successful there. But if I talk about what I’m good at, then we may be able to have a conversation where I can add value, because a lot of people haven’t written books who want to.

Another area that I have this value in is copywriting. Before I was writing my books, I made my living through copywriting. So I would steer the conversation of businesspeople I met toward the copy on their website. Then I would subtly suggest that their copy could use some help, and offer that help. Not for money—we aren’t talking about selling here. We’re talking about giving.

All of you have at least one (and maybe two or three) of these areas where you have a home court advantage. Think about an area you know a lot about that could be useful to a wide range of people. It doesn’t have to be just about business. It can be about relationships. If you’re in a successful long-term marriage, you’re an expert in relationships. Everyone needs help with that. If you happen to lose weight and know how to get in shape, that’s an area you can help with—whether or not you’re a fitness trainer.

Now I want to hear from someone in the audience about an area you might be a relative expert in.

Audience Member 1: I had a friend who lost about 45 pounds and told me how he did it. And at first, I didn’t think I could. But he just planted the seed and let me get comfortable with the idea. Then he suggested, “Why don’t you try it for three weeks and see how it goes?” And from last year to now I’ve lost 30 pounds. Recently, I went to grab after-work drinks with a bunch of old friends, and a lot of them had put on weight. By seeing the changes I went through and me talking to them about how I did it, I’ve helped several of those people lose over 100 pounds, and counting.

Michael: Did you charge money?

Audience Member 1: No, absolutely not.

ME: That’s the key point right there. Thank you so much. Let’s hear one more from a business area.

Audience Member 2: I was an early adopter on LinkedIn, and use it extensively for both inbound and outbound marketing. So one of the areas that I help people with—or offer to help them with—is improving their overall LinkedIn experience (profile, groups, outbound discussions, marketing, and all of that). That’s been an area where people have been very receptive to my help.

Michael: That’s great. Thank you. So here’s a key point. Does anyone in the room know somebody who might need some help losing weight? We all know someone who needs help with that. Is there anyone who could use some help with their LinkedIn profile? I barely even understand LinkedIn, so I could use your help!

Here are two people in the audience who have incredible value to offer to anyone. In my experience, everyone has at least two or three areas—whether business or personal—like this. While we’re on this topic I also want to make another distinction: this is the foundation of good sales as well. The best way to sell, in my experience, is to become essentially an unpaid consultant for a period of time. Instead of trying to get them to buy your stuff, just start advising them on the area of your expertise, and they will quickly see how awesome you are, and want to work with you. So this actually melds into sales.

However, let’s be very clear on this: when you’re networking, you are NOT trying to sell that person on something. You have to make a decision, like a switch in your head. Either this is someone who is a sales prospect for your business, or this is someone your want to connect with in your network. And you have to keep a firewall between those two things.

Who thinks a personal relationship is helped by trying to sell someone on your services? Starting by trying to get money from someone is probably the worst thing you can do to build a relationship! So you need to decide if each person you meet is someone you want in your network/sphere of influence/circle of relationships/tribe. If they are, then it’s probably better to just be of service, without trying to steer them into a sales conversation. But the two are very similar, because when you actually do want to sell, you should do the same thing—you should give.

What I’m going to do right now is demonstrate how I do this networking effectively. I’d like a volunteer to come up please.

Michael: So this is going to be a little more awkward than it would normally be in a more natural setting, because we usually wouldn’t have lights on us and 200 people watching us. And normally we’d have a little more time, but we’re going to do this fast. While we do this, I want you to pay attention to three phases of this short conversation we’re going to have.

The first part is called Chit-Chat. That’s your normal cocktail party banter. “Where are you from? What kind of business are you in?” You have to have that. It’s awkward if you just start in saying, “Hey, how can I help you? How can I be of service?” Right? So build a little rapport first. The problem is most people stay at that level of chit-chat.

So quickly after Chit-Chat we’re going to move into the Inquiry phase, which is where you inquire about what this person is up to, what they might need in their life, and how you might help them. Then the third phase is what I call Adding Value, which is where you proactively add value.

Let’s give this a shot . . .

Hey, what’s your name?

Jolette: Jolette.

Michael: Jolette, nice to meet you. How did you find out about Awesomeness Fest?

Jolette: My friend and business partner Kiva told me about it.

Michael: This is your first time?

Jolette: This is my first time.

Michael: What’s been your highlight so far – other than being on stage?

Jolette: Meeting all the people. I just love everybody here. It’s awesome!

Michael: Great, and where did you come from?

Jolette: Los Angeles.

Michael: [To audience] This is normal, cocktail party chit chat. And it’s fine. In fact, it’s necessary. It’s awkward if you don’t engage in this kind of stuff. The problem is when you get stuck. So now we’re going to move to the second phase, which is called Inquiry.

[To Jolette] So Jolette, what kind of business are you up to?

Jolette: I teach peaceful parenting, and train parenting coaches to be peaceful and conscious.

Michael: Wow. How did you get inspired to do that?

Jolette: Having a son. [Laughter]

Michael: You needed some of your own medicine?

Jolette: Yes!

Michael: In your business right now, what’s most exciting to you? When you wake up, what is that thing you’re thinking about most in your business?

Jolette: Mmmm . . . I’m really enjoying hearing the stories from our parenting coaches now, that they are getting clients and transforming families’ lives. We had one the other day say she thinks she just saved a marriage. That touches my heart a lot.

ME: [To audience] I’m going to pause for a second. Did you notice a change in her voice when I asked that last question? We went from the chit chat about where you’re from and la, di, da, to a great question, “What’s most exciting to you in your business?” And the first sound out of her mouth was, “Mmmm . . .” And then her whole voice changed as she was talking about what she’s excited about. So all of a sudden we’re taking about things that are exciting to Jolette.

I’m going to ask another question that can get to the heart of the Inquiry phase . . .

[To Jolette] Right now, in terms of growing your business, what’s the highest leverage challenge for you right now? If you could just fix this one thing, what would take it to the next level?

Jolette: Reaching more people.

Michael: What are you doing right now to try to reach more people?

Jolette: We’re partnering with people. But I really want to reach more and more people.

Michael: When you talk to potential J/V’s, is there kind of a sales aspect to it, where you’re pitching a bit about what you have to offer, or what they have to offer?

Jolette: Yes.

ME: Awesome. So I actually happen to know one of the top sales trainers in the country. This guy is a complete master of sales. He’s revolutionized my life, and my wife’s life, around sales. He’s my mentor, and he’ll pretty much talk to anyone I tell him to talk to. I’d be happy to connect you to him if you want.

Jolette: Wow, that’s awesome. Mmhmm. That’s great!

Michael: Do you have a card?

Jolette: Sure! Here.

Michael: Great.

Let’s give a hand to Jolette. [Applause]

I will actually make that connection Jolette. I meant what I said. He is a guy named Bryan Franklin, who is one of my main mentors in business and life, and my wife’s mentor as well.

I want to point out a couple of things that happened there, about the phases. You saw the Chit Chat, you saw the Inquiry, and you saw how we were talking about what mattered to her. How many people have been in a conversation where people were talking about what mattered to them, not what mattered to you? It’s kind of boring.

Our favorite topic of conversation is ourselves. So if you’re someone who consistently gets people into their favorite topic of conversation, you’re going to have a lot of success connecting with them. But not just talking about it. Here’s the key point I want to make: you need to be proactively figuring out how you can add value.

I talked about giving advice. Another way you can add value is to make a connection. This is one of the snowball effects, like the rich getting richer. You start with a certain number of connections. Then the more you have, the easier it is to bring more people into your tribe, because you’re constantly making these connections. A great way to bring people into your tribe is by connecting them with your already-existing tribe. You might have to start small, but once you build a critical mass of amazing people then it just keeps growing.

The last really important point I want to make here about what you just saw stems around the idea of passively making yourself available to add value, versus proactively seeking out how they need value. A lot of times, you’ll hear people say, “Hey if there is any way I can help you, let me know.” Has anyone ever heard someone say that to them? It’s nice. It’s a nice thing to say, and hear. But it has almost no value. Because oftentimes, (A) We don’t know how we need help. That’s part of being human. And (B) We’re not vulnerable enough to share with a stranger how we might need help.

What I’ve gotten really good at, and what I just shared with you, are gentle ways to inquire about how people might need help. Specifically, to inquire in a realm in which you can offer help. Proactively, gently, start inquiring about what’s going on in a person’s life, and how you might be able to add value. What I propose to you is that if you go around practicing adding value regularly in this way with everyone (not just rich, famous people). Then everything you want in life—from more business and wealth, to the relationship you’re looking for if you’re single, to more renown, more fame, or anything else you want—is available to you.

[The audio version is available for streaming below. To download it, CTRL-click on the "Download" link below and select "Save Link As" (on a Mac) or right-click on a PC.]