Never Eat Alone: Follow Up or Fail

This is the seventh of sixteen parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz’s Never Eat Alone, where this book on building a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters, “Follow Up or Fail” and “Be a Conference Commando,” which appear on pages 105 through 127.

neaAs I began to get better at interacting with people, I found that I would often meet and have a good time getting to know people at conferences, but after the conference (and a flurry of emails in the week or so afterwards), I’d often find that I hadn’t really built any sort of longer relationships with most of these people.

And I’d feel like I wasted my time.

I began to realize that there were two problems. For one, I was often connecting with people who were just at the conference to goof off on someone else’s budget. That’s fine, but you’re rarely going to meet people who have a strong lifelong impact if you hang out with the pure partying crowd (having a good time is fine, but if you’re doing nothing but that… there might be a problem).

The second problem is that I just wasn’t good at following up – so why should I expect that the other folks would be?

In this portion of the book, Ferrazzi actually deals with both of these points in detail.

Following Up Is Key
Ferrazzi argues that the real key to making a good impression on someone is to follow up. On page 106:

Do you want to stand out from the crowd? Then you’ll be miles ahead by following up better and smarter than the hordes scrambling for the person’s attention. The fact is, most people don’t follow up very well, if at all. Good follow-up alone elevates you above 95 percent of your peers. The follow-up is the hammer and nails of your networking tool kit.


You meet someone. Great. You have a good conversation and find out you have some things in common. Even better. You exchange contact information before you go your separate ways. Spectacular!

However, it’s all (nearly) for naught if you don’t take the next step and follow up. Great relationships aren’t built from one meeting – they require regular interactions and exchanges of value and ideas.

You have that contact information in hand. Use it.

Ferrazzi follows this point with a quick set of principles on how to do it well. On page 106:

Give yourself between twelve and twenty-four hours after you meet someone to follow up. If you meet somebody on a plane, send them an email later that day. If you meet somebody over cocktails, again, send them an email the next morning. For random encounters and chance meetings, email is a fine tool for dropping a quick note to say, “It was a pleasure meeting you. We must keep in touch.” In such an e-mail, I like to cite something particular we talked about in the course of our conversation – whether a shared hobby or business interest – that serves as a mental reminder of who I am. When I leave the meeting, I put the name and email address of the new acquaintance in my database and program my PDA or BlackBerry to remind me in a month’s time to drop the person another email, just to keep in touch.

This is a great collection of little tips to make following up that much easier. Let’s break down a few of them.

First of all, follow up quickly. Do it within 48 hours of your meeting or else it’s likely the person will have forgotten about you. If you have an email address, it’s easy – just shoot off an email.

Second, include a reminder of who you are. When you follow up, you might be following up with someone who met a lot of people in a short timeframe and simply can’t recall everyone. Including a reminder can also facilitate continued conversation.

Third, plan for a second follow-up. If the person I’m writing to is really interesting or important to me, I’ll stick a note in Google Calendar to write them another email – or some other form of follow-up – within the next month. Sometimes, I’ll schedule two or three of them, using different media.

Go Handwritten
On page 108, Ferrazzi makes an astute point about the advantage of handwritten follow-up notes:

While e-mail is one perfectly acceptable way to follow up, there are other methods to consider. A handwritten thank-you note these days can particularly capture a person’s attention. When’s the last time you received a handwritten letter? When you get something addressed to you personally, you open it.

Yes, it’s a lot easier to send an email. But that’s exactly why a handwritten note stands out so much.

At my previous job, I was involved with a special project that took me into one of the rural regions of Mexico, where poverty is almost beyond imagining in our modern world. On this trip, I was assisting a researcher and over the course of the trip, I was able to help him with several problems.

He could have easily thanked me with a handshake (which he did) or with an email (which he also did), but what stuck with me was the card I received from him, a short handwritten note expressing appreciation for my efforts. It meant a lot to me and went quite far to facilitate a long term working relationship between us.

Since then, I’ve tried to send handwritten notes on as many occasions as it is reasonable and I’ve found that almost always it creates a very positive impression.

Why Go to a Conference?
Why attend conferences? I know that before I started really thinking about the value of conferences, I found them pretty pointless myself. Ferrazzi explains the reason for conference attendance on page 110:

Conferences are good for mainly one thing. […] They provide a forum to meet the kind of like-minded people who can help you fulfill your mission and goals.

I used to hate attending conferences. Mostly, I’d get bored during the sessions and then completely check out once the day’s sessions were done simply because the day had been so long to that point.

A friend of mine told me later that I was doing it all wrong. He suggested picking out only the sessions I was deeply interested in, then resting and recharging during the other sessions, back at my room. The key time, according to him, was when the conference was in break or out of session.

Why? That’s when you can talk to people and meet them. Plus, with the extra rest, you can stay up late into the night and still be fresh the next morning.

I started doing this with the last few conferences I’ve attended and they’ve been completely different experiences.

A Great Way to Get Involved
On page 113, Ferrazzi offers a great recipe for getting involved with conferences, making it possible for you to meet a lot of likeminded people there:

First, review the event’s materials, visit its web site, and find out who the main contact is for putting together the conference. Put in a phone call. The person responsible for these kinds of events is generally overworked and stressed out. I like to call these people a few months ahead of the event and say, “I’m really looking forward to the conference you’re putting gotether. I’m interested in helping make this year be the best year ever, and I’m willing to devote a chunk of my resources – be it time, creativity, or connections – to make this year’s event a smash hit. How can I help?”

One of the conferences I regularly attended in the mid-2000s was often in desperate need of technical support. One of my close associates, who was somewhat skilled in such areas (but not strongly skilled), always volunteered for the duty.

I finally asked him why a few months before I left my last job. In his words, the reasons were obvious. He got invited to all of the organizer and keynote presenter meetings, where there were a lot of interesting and well-known people. He also got his name and contact information in the program and also had an “organizer” name tag, which helped him greatly with the “name recognition” factor during the conference. Plus, the other organizers would often listen to his input and consider his suggestions for who should present at various sessions, enabling him to support some of his own close connections.

Sure, it meant some extra work for him, but in the context of a longer career, the benefits of such work are incredibly obvious.

Take Advantage of Breaks
Ferrazzi makes the point, on page 124, that the real worthwhile part of conferences happens during the breaks:

Breaks are where the real work happens at a conference.

Make sure and stake out the right place. Have you ever noticed how guests gather in the kitchen or some other central place when you have gatherings at home? One warm and centrally located spot is often the center of any party. The same holds true at a business gathering. Determine where most people will gather, or at least pass, and station yourself there. This might be near the food table, the bar, or the reception area.

Along these same lines, I always suggest being comfortable over being perfectly dressed. Quite frankly, the more “perfectly” dressed I am, the more nervous I get. I tend to lock up if I’m in my nicest suit and attempt to make small talk with people. Thus, I’ll often go on the more casual side of appropriate dress – it makes me feel more comfortable and thus more talkative.

Also, when I’m making conversation, I find that a couple of social drinks helps lubricate me and make it much easier to talk. You’ll find that at conferences, the bar area is often filled with people who do the same thing – they have a drink simply because they’re a bit introverted and the drink helps them loosen up a bit. Right there, you have something in common.

Figure out the little things that work well for you. What makes you feel more comfortable? Doing those little things as part of your “conference routine” can make the whole thing go much more smoothly – and help you begin to build some great value-based relationships with people in your field.

On Saturday, we’ll tackle the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters – “Connecting with Connectors” and “Expanding Your Circle.”

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