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How to network from scratch even if you think you have nothing to offer

(Editorial) Whether you’re new to a space or just a first time conference goer, it can be intimidating to get around the room, but with these unique tips, you’ll master any room.





Professional networking tips that are actually helpful

Professional networking events are often underutilized because most of us head into an event or a conference, huddle in a corner with our known people, throw a few business cards around, then run back to the corner and probably get a little tipsy. It’s pretty ineffective for most people, and often a wasted opportunity. But it doesn’t have to be.

Matt Winters’ editorial here on AG offers endless tips on networking and getting the most out of these events, and it’s a great place to get your feet wet, whether you’re a novice networker or a seasoned card passer-outer.

But one topic we haven’t yet broached is how to network when you don’t think you have anything to offer. The truth is that many of us feel this way when we walk into a room of strangers – it can be intimidating, even for the most outgoing, well connected people on the planet.

Chris Johnson, Co-Founder of Simplifilm and Founder of our favorite new blog, Hustle And Close, recently wrote on this very topic in depth, offering unique insight into why everyone has something to offer and how you can better prepare.

How to network from scratch

We encourage you to read Johnson’s full editorial below:

We all start at zero at various times in our lives.

We may have changed jobs.  Spouses.  Lost friends. Moved.

We may have to find our way in a new industry.

This has happened before and it will happen again.  When it happens, we might be broke, we might not have anything valuable to bring to the table.

That’s OK.  What we have is resourcefulness, energy, empathy and hustle.

Let’s say you’re dropped in a 3-day conference amongst strangers. And let’s say you don’t know anyone, and everyone is having a good time and telling jokes like old friends.  The circles of conversation are closed and nobody knows you.  What do you do next?

Here are 5 ideas to carry with you when networking.

Idea #1: Use Gestures of Empathy

What are people afraid of?  Getting buttonholed into a long-winded sales pitch.

Having to hear boring stories.  Not connecting with the right people.  When the conference has gone on a long time, people are a little warn out from the grind.

Dispel their fears and lead with  a gesture of empathy. How do you do this?

Easy.  Just address the thoughts here, make eye contact, and signal that you are already an ally.

A sample intro – between me and Steve.

Steve: “I’m  Steve- from Acme Widgets”
Me: “I’m Chris Johnson – from Simplifilm.  Hey, just wanted to let you know that you are always welcome to join in a conversation with me and anyone I might be around.  I’ll be meeting tons of people, but I’ll be happy to introduce you.”
Steve: “Wow, that sounds great, thanks.”

After this point, follow up is optional.

Now notice: I didn’t buy Steve’s lunch, I didn’t over-promise anything. I just let Steve know I was here to help and happy to do so. That instant gesture- that I’m an ally – broke the tension.

(This may take rehearsal).

Idea #2: Create a Small Posse

My good friend Chase calls these the Third Tier concepts. Acquire allies. Make lifelong friends.

At a recent event, I met up with two people  (Matt and Mindy at Winning Edits) who were aligned with my goals: we both wanted to help authors and we both wanted to accomplish some high-velocity networking.  We shared a few meals together, we shared some stories, goals,  we shared a hike together, and we worked very hard to help each other over the weekend.

We were strangers before the event, and I am betting we’ll be lifelong friends.

How did this happen?  Well, we were introduced by a mutual contact (one that I had just met at the event). We met at small gathering of people, so there was some common ground.  When I learned we had a lot of shared goals and a lot of people in our personal venn diagrams that would benefit each other, I made the call to adopt them.  The three of us spent a ton of time together (and a lot of time apart) and made intros to all the people we met together.

Because I had allies everywhere I was able to confidently segue between meeting new people, and adding depth.  I met other folks at the event, had other rich and probably permanent connections, too, but if all I had done was to meet them?  Event was a success.

We never made a pact–we just started sharing energy to help one another early on.  The momentum carried forward.

Idea #3: Focus on Velocity Balance

You have to meet a lot of people to find the right people.

This means: you have to kiss a lot of frogs…

Covering enough ground is vital  because each individual – while completely valuable – is only  slightly likely to be the magical contact that can change your life. So, instead of stagnating with one person, you have to branch out.  Here are some ways to do that:

  • Everyone you meet should be told they are ‘always welcome to say hi (this gets to #4- graceful exits).’
  • Any time you have a meal, have at least one stranger there.
  • Any time there is a natural break, make 3 introductions.

Each person is also looking for their “right people” so they will benefit from this.

Idea #4: Have A Graceful & Grateful Exit Framework Rehearsed

People want to move on.  They’ll be thankful for it.  They know what’s going on in a networking event.

So if you practice any script, the one you need is the graceful exit. You hope to leave people with a great feeling, and a graceful exit can do that.

Here’s the basic framework:

  • Thank them, acknowledge them, make them feel great.  Vicky does a great job here.
  • Give permission to follow up later.  I do this by inviting them to talk to me later.
  • Tell them you’re happy to do specific favors down the road (and mean it).

Here’s an exit: “Hey, Shelly, it was fantastic meeting you.  I’m going to go over and talk to my friend Matt, but I’d love to stay in touch after the event.  Can I get your email (take out phone).  Super.  Let me know if I can help in any way- and thanks for taking the time to talk to me- glad to have a new friend!”

They will be free to leave, happy they met you, and feel warm. This takes practice.

Idea #5: Signal Long Term, Helpful Intentions

We are here to benefit other people, to help, and to be helped.  We have to signal that we’re real allies, not summer soldiers.

So, there are some ways to do that, and the easiest one is to ask them what they need.

Questions like:

  • Who is a good fit for you?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • How could I help?
  • What connections would make things better?

Are signals.  They are markers of who you are.  They are more effective at selling than a sales pitch. Sure, an elevator speech could be useful in some instances, but a lifelong friend will pay for itself many times over.

Signals of being helpful, being able to be around. They aren’t “talking about ourselves.”  They questions about the other person’s goals, and having asked them normally and naturally will increase the likelihood that someone works with you.

Go Forth, and Multiply<

“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of acting.”
-Quote attributed to many people on the internet, first heard from A.J. Jacobs.

Taken together, these five ideas will create your basic framework to build a network from scratch.  They minimize the risk of rejection. They maximize the rest, and it’s a very ambivert like philosophy.  Have the hustle of an extrovert with the care for others that an introvert has.

When you network with empathy and gratitude, you will win way faster than you could otherwise.

So do it.

This post originally appeared on, comments may be found there.

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

Opinion Editorials

Serial procrastinator? Check your mental energy, not time management

(EDITORIAL) Need a hack for your time management? Try focusing on your mental energy management.




Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”

I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.

Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.

So, why doesn’t time management work?

For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!

Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.

It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”

It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.

Now, how do you manage your energy?

First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.

You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.

Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy. The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.

Moral of the story?

Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.

Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.

The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.

Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.

In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well.

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Opinion Editorials

6 skills humans have that AI doesn’t… yet

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the growing power and skill of AI, but here are a few skills where we have the upper hand.



Man drawing on a roll of butcher paper, where AI cannot express themselves yet.

AI is taking over the workforce as we know it. Burgers are already being flipped by robotic arms (and being flipped better), and it’s only a matter of time before commercial trucks and cars will be driven by robots (and, probably, be driven better).

It may feel unnerving to think about the shrinking number of job possibilities for future humans – what jobs will be around for humans when AI can do almost everything better than we can?

To our relief (exhale!), there are a few select skills that humans will (hopefully) always be better at than AI. The strengths that we have over AI fall into 3 general categories: Ability to convey emotion, management over others, and creativity.

Let’s break it down: Here are 6 skills that we as humans should be focusing on right now.

Our ability to undertake non-verbal communication

What does this mean for humans? We need to develop our ability to understand and communicate body language, knowing looks, and other non-verbal cues. Additionally, we need to refine our ability to make others feel warm and heard – if you work in the hospitality industry, mastering these abilities will give you an edge over the AI technologies that might replace you.

Our ability to show deep empathy to customers

Unlike AI, we share experiences with other humans and can therefore show empathy to customers. Never underestimate how powerful your deep understanding of being human will be when you’re pitted against a robot for a job. It might just be the thing that gives you a cutting edge.

Our ability to undertake growth management

As of this moment, humans are superior to AI when it comes to managing others. We are able to support organization members in developing their skillsets and, due to our coaching ability, we are able to help others to grow professionally. Take that, AI!

Our ability to employ mind management

What this essentially means is that we can support others. Humans have counseling skills, which means we are able to help someone in distress, whether that stems from interpersonal relationships or professional problems. Can you imagine an AI therapist?

Our ability to perform collective intelligence management

Human creativity, especially as it relates to putting individual ideas together to form an innovative new one, gives us a leg up when competing against AI. Humans are able to foster group thought, to manage and channel it, to create something bigger and better than what existed before. Like, when we created AI in the first place.

Our ability to realize new ideas in an organization

Think: Elevator pitch. Humans are masters of marketing new ideas and are completely in-tune with how to propose new concepts to an organization because, you guessed it, we too are human. If the manager remains human in the future (fingers crossed!), then we know what to say to them to best sell our point of view.

Using what we know, it’s essential for almost all of us to retrain for an AI-driven economy that is most likely just a few years away. My advice for my fellow humans? Develop the parts of you that make you human. Practice eye contact and listening. Think about big pictures and the best way to manage others. Sharpen your mind with practicing creative processes. And do stay up to date with current trends in AI tech. Sooner or later, these babies are bound to be your co-workers.

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Opinion Editorials

Your business model doesn’t have to be a unicorn or a camel to succeed

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s not unusual for people to suggest a new business model analogy, but this latest “camel” suggestion isn’t new or helpful.



Camels walking in desert, not the best business model.

This year in 2020 I’ve seen a great deal of unique takes on how our system works. From 45 all the way down to children instructing adults on how to wear masks properly. However, after reading this new article published by the Harvard Business Review, I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so out of touch with the rest of the business world. Here’s a brief synopsis on this article on business model.

The author has decided that now of all times it’s drastically important for startups and entrepreneurs to switch their business tactics. Changing from a heavy front-end investment or “startups worth over a billion dollars” colloquially called “Unicorns” to a more financially reserved business model. One he has tried to coin as the “Camel”, using references to the animal’s ability to survive “long periods of time without sustenance, withstand the scorching desert heat, and adapt to extreme variations in climate.”

The author then goes on to outline best practices for this new business plan: “Balance instead of burn”, “Camels are built for the long haul”, “Breadth and depth for resilience”.

Now I will admit that he’s not wrong on his take. It’s a well thought-out adjustment to a very short-term solution. You want to know why I’m sure of that? Because people figured this out decades ago.

The only place that a “Unicorn” system worked was in something like the Silicon Valley software companies. Where people can start with their billions of dollars and expect “blitzscaling” (a rapid building-up tactic) to actually succeed. The rest of the world knows that a slow and resilient pace is better suited for long term investments and growth. This ‘new’ business realization is almost as outdated as the 2000 Olympics.

The other reason I’m not thrilled with this analogy is that they’ve chosen an animal that doesn’t really work well. Camels are temperamental creatures that actually need a great deal of sustenance to survive those conditions they’ve mentioned. It’s water that they don’t need for long periods, once they stock up. They have to have many other resources up front to survive those harsh conditions the article writer mentioned. So by this analogy, it’s not that different than Silicon Valley’s strongly backed “startups.”

If he wanted to actually use the correct animal for this analogy, then he should call it a tortoise business plan. Actually, any type of reptile or shark would work. It would probably be a better comparison in temperament as well, if we’re talking ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ Whatever you do, consider your angle, and settle in for the long haul.

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