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Networking in a nutshell

I WAS standing in line at Kinko's Print Shop on a Sunday afternoon when I couldn't help but glance at the paperwork of the gentleman ahead of me: "Minnesota Hospice Organisation Annual Convention."

"Excuse me, sir," I started, "I couldn't help but notice your materials. I'm a professional speaker on the subject of using humour to recover from chronic illness. Does your organisation use outside speakers for their convention?''

That simple question opened the door to a new venue of prospects I had never thought of contacting. Before leaving Kinko's, I had the name and number of the executive director of his organisation. By Monday, I had made telephone contact. Within six months I was the closing keynote speaker for that annual convention. Luck? Timing? I like to think of it as networking, and it's an integral part of the success to our health and our lives.

Regardless of whether you are trying to locate the best doctor in town, or looking for contacts for employment, networking with the right people can propel your health and career to guaranteed success. There are two ways to approach networking. Either way works, and both have advantages and disadvantages.

From the bottom up

Sometimes it seems impossible to make contact with a physician, executive, celebrity or expert due to their high visibility and their laundry list of responsibilities and commitments. Should you give up on making a connection? Not at all: rather, start by making contact with a lower person on that individual's totem pole.

When I began concentrating on my speaking career full-time, one of my first priorities was to get a meeting with Mr. Harvey Mackay, author of Swim With the Sharks Before You Get Eaten Alive and Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty. Why Harvey? He was successful, well connected, knowledgable, a cancer survivor, and local. Would he take my call? No.

I contacted friends of mine who knew Harvey and asked them to call, write and e-mail on my behalf. Through those contacts, I made an appointment to meet Harvey's assistant. He and I hit it off and had several things in common. Before my friends were finished making phone calls, I also had an appointment for breakfast with the president of Harvey's firm.

Networking my way through Harvey's web of professional and personal relationships landed me my appointment and several others since. It never hurts to know the receptionist, secretaries, and administrative personnel who, once they know you by name, can hand you the key to the head office. The disadvantages? It will definitely take longer and may require several appointments with people of lesser importance until you reach your targeted goal.

From the top down

Have you ever looked across a crowded room only to spot one of your idols or the doctor you've heard so much about, surrounded by a mob of eager individuals? "If only I could have 10 minutes with them," you think as you stare wistfully. Find a field of commonality, preferably through a reference of someone who already knows that individual. Muster up your courage and approach that key contact with a statement such as, "Dr. Smith, my name is Christine Clifford, and my friend Linda Johnson felt that if I could have 10 minutes of your time, you might find my case of interest to you and your hospital."

If you approach one of the experts with this type of introduction, the worst thing that can happen is that they say "NO". Your ego may be bruised; you may feel a twinge of rejection, but at least you tried.

The best thing, however, is that the person probably will give you 10, 20, 60 minutes. Next time you're at an event or forum of interest to you, make it a point to introduce yourself to the experts. Establishing relationships with those experts can open new doors of opportunity, knowledge, and may just save your life or the life of a loved one some day.

The Minnesota Hospice Convention has long been over, but I know better than to let an opportunity slip by. I asked that director for a letter of recommendation, a list of the other 49 State directors in the U.S., and his permission to use his name in a query letter. The result? I've been speaking at three to four State hospice conventions every year since. Next time you're standing in line at the print shoppe, don't forget to hobnob with the clients. You never know who you might meet ...

Don't forget to laugh!

The writer is the President/C.E.O. of The Cancer Club, and the author of four books including Not Now ... I'm Having a No Hair Day!, Our Family Has Cancer, Too! and Inspiring Breakthrough Secrets to Love Your Dreams.


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