Networking! (How To Just Go Up To Someone and Say You're Awesome)

AFJ4P1 Royalty-freeThe Buckingham Fountain, Chicago, Illinois, USA landmark, before downtown skyscraper skyline including the S
David Lyons/Alamy

Before I get to today's subject, a personal moment to thank those of you who sent good wishes after my last post about being sick while self-employed. 'Twas much appreciated, and I am well enough that I made it to Chicago (from LA) this week to speak at Chicago Ideas Week. So hello from the Windy City!

I wrote last week that I was really hoping illness would not keep me from attending this event because, in addition to the enjoyment I get from speaking in front of an audience, this is a great networking opportunity. As soon as I said that, my editor here at AOL suggested I write about networking and how I go about doing it. "Hey, great idea!" I said, despite the fact that I am a terrible, terrible networker. Not only am I bad at it, I don't like it. Especially now that I'm no longer a big fancy national broadcast journalist.

For someone who talks to people for a living, that's a pretty ridiculous thing to say, right? If I can interview politicians, celebrities, and CEOs, all perfect strangers, then what's the problem with some meet n' greets? Well there are two differences, at least to my mind.

Two differences
One is that when you're a journalist, especially one with a national platform, people come to you, not the other way around. Sure, sometimes you have to chase the interview. But most of the time, people want to be on air, want to be invited to be part of a conversation, if for no other reason than it gives them free publicity. The second difference is that in almost all those cases, those interviews, it's not about me. It's about them. I'm asking questions about them. I pretty much stay out of it because unless you're a memoirist or a columnist, journalism isn't about the person asking the question, it's about the person answering it.

So suddenly, I'm the person seeking out others so that I can tell them about... me! I know, I know, that's not exactly what networking is. But it's more that than anything I've done before. I'm the one asking for a prom date, instead of being asked out. Yikes.

What I'll rely on is two decades of skill in public speaking and appearances. Much of the time that hasn't involved a lot of interaction, but when it did, my favorite part was chatting with people who knew me and my show. So that's all I'm doing when I'm networking, right? Except I have to ask for business cards? <shudder>

Make it about them
I guess I will simply remember my favorite piece of advice from my favorite dinner party expert, Ina Garten, who says just ask everyone about themselves and they'll leave thinking you're the smartest person in the room. I can do that!

I'd love to hear your networking tips and put them to use in Chicago this week. Share your stories in the comments section below and email me at

And come back here every Wednesday morning for my next post... this column is not an advice column, just personal observations about my journey from a long career in journalism to... whatever comes next. But tell me ... what do you want to read about?