The Art of Schmoozing
“It's not what you know or who you know, but who knows you.” Susan RoAne.
The Guy Kawasaki Theory of Schmoozing version 1.0 was ad hoc: get to know the people that you need for a specific deal. It was short-term and focused.Version 2.0 is ad infinitum--maybe even ad nauseam. It's taken me twenty years, but I've figured out that it's much easier to make a sale, build partnerships, create joint ventures--you name it--with people that you already know than with people you just met.
The key is to establish a relationship before you need it. And this is why I'd like to provide the art of schmoozing.
- Understand the goal. Darcy Rezac in his book, The Frog and the Prince, wrote the world's best definition of schmoozing: “Discovering what you can do for someone else.” Herein lies eighty percent of the battle: great schmoozers want to know what they can do for you, not what the you can do for them. If you understand this, the rest is just mechanics.
- Get out. Schmoozing is an analog, contact sport. You can't do it alone from your office on the phone or via a computer. You may hate them but force yourself to go to tradeshows, conventions, and seminars. It's unlikely that you'll be closing a big order with someone you met online at MySpace or via Skype. Get out there and press flesh.
- Ask good questions, then shut up. The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot. Thus, good schmoozers are good listeners, not good talkers. Ask softball questions like, “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” “What brings you to this event?” Then listen. Ironically, you'll be remembered as an interesting person.
- Unveil your passions. Only talking about business is boring. Good schmoozers unveil their passions after they get to know you. Great schmoozers lead off with their passions. Your passions make you an interesting person--you'll stick out because you're the only person not talking about 802.11 chipsets at the wireless conference. Personally, my passions are children, Macintosh, Breitling watches, digital photography, and hockey if you ever meet me.
- Read voraciously. In order to be a good schmoozer, you need to read voraciously--and not just the EE Times, PC Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. You need a broad base of knowledge so that you can access a vast array of information during conversations. Even if you are a pathetic passionless person, you can at least be a well-read one who can talk about a variety of topics.
- Follow up. Over the course of my career, I've given away thousands of business cards. At one point, I thought I was nuts because if all those people called or emailed me, I'd never get anything done. Funny thing: hardly anyone ever follows up. Frankly, I don't know why people bother asking for a business card if they're not going to follow up. Great schmoozers follow up within twenty-four hours--just a short email will do: “Nice to meet you. I hope we can do something together. Hope your blog is doing well. I loved your Breitling watch. I have two tickets to the Stanley Cup Finals if you want to attend.” Include at least one thing to show the recipient that she isn't getting a canned email.
- Make it easy to get in touch. Many people who want to be great schmoozers, ironically, don't make it easy to get in touch with them. They don't carry business cards, or their business cards don't have phone numbers and email addresses. Even if they provide this information, it's in grey six-point type. This is great if you're schmoozing teenagers, but if you want old, rich, famous, and powerful people to call or email, you'd better use a twelve-point font. (These are the same folks that need the thirty-point font vis-a-vis the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint.)
- Give favors. One of my great pleasures in life is helping other people; I believe there's a big Karmic scoreboard in the sky. God is keeping track of the good that you do, and She is particularly pleased when you give favors without the expectation of return from the recipient. The scoreboard always pays back. You can also guess that I strongly believe in returning favors for people who have helped you.
- Ask for the return of favors. Good schmoozers give favors. Good schmoozers also return favors. However, great schmoozers ask for the return of favors. You may find this puzzling: Isn't it better to keep someone indebted to you? The answer is no, and this is because keeping someone indebted to you puts undue pressure on your relationship. Any decent person feels guilty and indebted. By asking for, and receiving, a return favor, you clear the decks, relieve the pressure, and set up for a whole new round of give and take. After a few rounds of give and take, you're best friends, and you have mastered the art of schmoozing.
Written at: Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, Orlando, Florida.