Networking Tips from the White House

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clinton1.jpg
Love him or hate him, Clinton was arguably the best networker the White House has ever seen. ((c) St. Anselm College)

This week I interview Christine Comaford-Lynch. This five-time CEO not only sold or took public all of her companies, she has also assisted more than 700 of the Fortune 1000 with accelerating innovation. Bill Gates has called her “super high-bandwidth,” and she’s consulted with both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The best part? She never graduated from high school.

I convinced her to take time out from her new book, Rules for Renegades, to discuss one of the most important skills she’s used to climb to the top–networking.

1. How did you get yourself in the White House, and what were the most important networking lessons you learned there?…

I do a lot of favors for people, because I believe in “palm up� networking, which is networking to give and not to get. I figure the universe has a perfect accounting system. If I do favors for others, someone will do favors for me. It works.

I was asked to help out TechNet, a bipartisan group of tech execs, and one day (after working countless hours for free) I was invited to a party at the White House. There were only about 200 of us there, Stephen Hawking gave a fascinating lecture, and it seemed everyone I met was a Nobel Laureate. I felt a little insecure, being a high school dropout, but I shrugged it off and starting connecting with people.

After watching President Clinton for a while I approached him. Our interaction blew me away for 3 reasons: 1) he was incredibly charismatic, 2) he wouldn’t let go of my hand—the “I’m hanging in for the long haul� shake, and 3) when I asked him for more government support for American entrepreneurs, he expected me to follow up. He sent me a note about a month later asking where the proposal was that I had offered to write!

Throughout the evening at the White House, I shook a lot of hands. Some people gave me the “isn’t there someone more interesting here?� shake—you know this one: the person is looking over your shoulder, looking to find someone influential. Hillary Clinton gave me the “I’m sincerely pleased to meet you and I mean it� shake—solid eye contact with genuine interest. This is the shake I strive to master. It requires you to be totally present and paying attention to the person. Isn’t this what shaking hands should be about? Connecting?

2. Why was Clinton such an effective influencer?

When he is talking with you, it seems you are the only person in the world. His focus is intense, but softened with his southern charm.

Step 1, he makes you feel important, so you listen up. Step 2, he has the 2 key qualities I learned from Bill Gates and Larry Ellison: 1) supreme self-confidence (this is a choice, by the way—you often have to adopt it before you have evidence to back it up) and 2) an unshakable core (no matter what is thrown at Bill and Larry, they shake it off, hunker down, and emerge triumphant).

The rich and powerful think, act, and speak differently from the rest of us. If you try adopting supreme self-confidence, even for a day, you’ll be stunned by how the world responds. It treats you as if you deserve everything you ask for.

3. What are the most common mistakes that people make when trying to connect with high-profile influencers or celebrities?

They network “palm down� and have a lean and hungry look. Ugh. It oozes “gimme� and desperation. This is a massive turn off. Were they to network “palm up� and find out what someone cares about and offer to be of service, they’d connect with the rich and powerful.

I think they do this because they’re seeking short term gain, not long term connection, which will ultimately lead to gain. Don’t fall into the trap of stuffing your rolodex with contacts. Contacts are just names and numbers. Connections are meaningful relationships that enhance your life. Yes, they take more work. But life = the people you meet + what you create together. It’s all about relationships.

4. If you could give just 3 unorthodox but critical recommendations to the aspiring uber-networker, what would they be?

1. Fall in love with people. They are fascinating–everyone has amazing stories of trials, triumphs, moments when they had epiphanies. Every day you are taught by people. It can be the mailman, the woman making me a cappuccino, anyone or anything. The more we pay attention, the more we see how we’re all students and teachers of each other. This also boosts our interest in people, which boosts our authenticity when networking.

2. Do the “drive-by schmooze.” We’re all busy, and we need to optimize our networking time. Here’s how:

-Set a specific amount of time to network, such as 30 minutes
-Set a goal for the # of meaningful connections you want to make in that time, such as 5
-Here’s the fun part: enter the room and stop your thoughts. Don’t look for VIPs, simply feel the room and let yourself be drawn to people. Then introduce yourself and ask what business they are in, how they got into it, and what their ideal customer is. DON’T talk about yourself.

If you know people who might be potential customers for them, or great possible connections, mention it. Write a few notes on their business card. Promise to follow up. Then do it. Make your personal brand synonymous with results. People say life is 90% about showing up. That’s nonsense. Life is 90% about following through.

3. Tell someone you appreciate them daily.
This can be done via email, via the phone, or in person. Watch the person’s face light up as you genuinely express why you appreciate them. Then move on. You’re not doing this to get them to return the gesture. You’re doing it because it spreads great energy, it’s fun, and it strengthens your connection with the human race.

###

From Tim: The big fish need to like you before they’ll risk lending their name to help you. Focus on being likable, which means finding and connecting on common interests, then offering help or fun on a few occasions (not just once) before even suggesting that you could use help.

For it to work, the other side needs to see you as a relationship, not a transaction. In other words, the real players don’t need your help, so you can’t use that as the incentive. They need to enjoy spending time with you, whether on the phone or in person. I still hang out and grab drinks with the bloggers and technologists who helped me launch the book. That wasn’t the end game for me.

Remember–at the end of the day, it’s not whom you know that matters… it’s who knows you.

Posted on: August 13, 2007.

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89 comments on “Networking Tips from the White House

  1. Please stop with Bill f’ing Clinton. You have no idea how much you lose crediblity in the “take this guy seriously” department when you reference a liar and swindler like that. Yeah fine – let’s hear all those who hate Bush chime in the same – exactly… that’s why you don’t list politicians if you want to be taken seriously as someone decisive and above the usual bullsh*t. Clinton is the opposite of that. You’ve lost a great deal of credibility by sucking up to his ilk.

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  2. Excellent – I really enjoyed this. Clinton’s networking skills are legendary. I’ve seen snippets here and there, and some anecdotes about Clinton in college, but never a real study of charisma.

    Tim what are some of you favorite networking books/tools?

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  3. Excellent – I really enjoyed this. Clinton’s networking skills are legendary. I’ve seen snippets here and there, and some anecdotes about Clinton in college, but never a real study of charisma.

    Tim what are some of your favorite networking books/tools?

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  4. Christine has recently joined our Advisory Board — your interview was a treat to read with excellent questions that drew out some terrific responses. Your publicist should contact me about reviewing your 4 hour work week book.

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  5. Great Post Tim. As a high school drop out too its inspiring to see what others can do. The ‘supreme self-confidence’ is something I need to practice more – as an INFP – with an extreme I rating (always 100% in every test I take) it can definitely be painful to approach people I don’t know and chit chat with them. Hopefully practice makes perfect….

    best,
    –Jack

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  6. Great post. I’ve often heard similar reports about Bill Clinton’s great networking skills. Even people who don’t like his politics are quoted as saying he’s a very likeable guy. I appreciate you sharing this.

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  7. Okay, okay–last week I got my e-newsletter from Jack Canfield’s Success Principles about Christine’s book, and I went almost all the way through the online purchase process until I noticed that the book wouldn’t be out until September, so I backed off and figured I’d just wait. Now I after reading this interview–from yet another respected source–and seeing the effect of the very connections she speaks of in action, my interest is more than simply piqued. I went back and ordered the book and am looking forward to its arrival. Good interview Great connections = Highly effective marketing technique!

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  8. Thanks Tim for another great interview. I enjoy learning about these famous networkers. I hope to use these simple strategies enhance my network of connections. I enjoy the blog and keep it up!

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  9. My sister was invited to the White House and had the same experience. He had the ability to make the least guest feel like he was really there to hear what they specifically had to offer. He seemed to literally thrive on meeting people and encouraging them to do more with their projects. I only ran into the guy leaving restaurants a few times so I got waves. I saw the first President Bush twice and Reagan three times and both times got “campaign waves.” 7 years into this administration I never hear about W going to one single restaurant in town, never seen him, never been invited to the WH. As soon as the weekend rolls around, he disappears. I have no idea what he gets from his isolation, but it must appeal to him somehow.

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  10. This is excellent advice! I’d always found networking events a necessary chore at best — I’d never thought of framing them as opportunities to ‘fall in love’ with people. :) I’ll try that from now on.

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  11. Christine’s advice to “introduce yourself and ask what business they are in” is soooo utilitarian. I hate people who are too stupid or self-seeking to ask that question first. It immediately reveals that they are about to make an assessment of your potential usefulness to them. It is incongruous with a “palm-up” attitude.

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  12. Very interesting indeed. I just need to get to some decent events to network now! I am trying to get something up and running in my town for designers / developers / web marketeers, so fingers crossed…

    I think Walter makes a valid point, you could be taken for someone looking for a useful person and perhaps not genuine / authentic. If the conversation comes round to this naturally, then all the better, but as an opening, I am not sure.

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