Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series on networking. The final installment will run in the April issue of ENTtoday.
Explore this issue:February 2018
The road to bad networking is paved with good intentions.
Hundreds of early career otolaryngologists and hundreds more residents arrive at regional, state, and annual meetings of the Triological Society, the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), and any number of various other otolaryngology-related organizations. They tell themselves that by showing up, they are already taking more initiative than many of their brethren. While this may be true, truly succeeding requires more than just showing up.
These otolaryngologists introduce themselves, make contacts, and swap business cards like baseball cards.
Then they go home, satisfied. They’ve done everything right, right?
“It’s not what you know or who you know; it’s how well you know each other that really counts,” said Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of BNI (Business Network International), a Charlotte-N.C.-based three-decades-old global business networking platform that has led CNN to call him “the father of modern networking.”
“Meeting people at events … is only the start of the process,” he added. “It’s not the end of the process by any means if you want to do this well.”
In fact, otolaryngologists interviewed by ENTtoday said that to get the most out of meetings, you must start preparation weeks, or even months, in advance, and preparation continues for months after.
Gavin Setzen, MD, AAO–HNS president and a private-practice otolaryngologist with Albany ENT & Allergy Services in Albany, N.Y., said that meetings have become more compressed, with more demands on attendees’ time. Those who fail to plan ahead may find themselves unable to accomplish their goals.
“There is a strategic approach to networking that makes it that much more effective and optimizes the outcomes,” he said. “There are multiple competing activities at the annual meeting, for example, and certainly competition for time—especially face-to-face time—is challenging. Oftentimes, two or three days will come and go very quickly, and one may find that they have not achieved the goal that was planned. For me, it is important to establish what those networking goals are in the weeks leading up to a particular meeting.”
Sometimes, that planning is as easy as culling through a meeting schedule and choosing ahead of time which session to attend and when, or which speakers to listen to and when. But when you approach someone after one of those sessions, it’s important to be prepared for that conversation as well, said Stacey Ishman, MD, MPH, surgical director of the Upper Airway Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“I really do try and make sure that I understand the background of the person I’m meeting with,” said Dr. Ishman. “It’s not hard to spend five minutes to find out where they’ve trained, what they specialize in, what kind of practice they have, or what their interests are, whether that’s within the Academy or whether in their local practice setting.”
She added, “Walking into a room with that level of preparation can be evident and also conveys a sense of seriousness and interest in the person or group (or issue) that you’re meeting with,” she said. “And those individuals are likely to be more engaged, and they are the ones I’m excited about following up with afterwards, especially for those in training and early practice, from a mentoring perspective as well.”
Once early-career physicians or residents arrive at a meeting, Dr. Setzen said that one key to effective networking is being ready with an elevator speech that respects how busy the person being approached is. “At a meeting, because time is so limited, having a goal in mind is important,” he said. “Introduce yourself with, ‘I’m Dr. XYZ. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I know your time is limited. I’m very interested in becoming more involved in education, research, committee structure, Board of Governors, etc. How can you help me do that? Here’s my card. Can I follow up with you after the meeting?’”
Physicians who attend a meeting expecting that every encounter will result in a lengthy exposition might be disappointed. A meeting of thousands of like-minded professionals is a starting point for networking, camaraderie, and education, not an endpoint, Dr. Setzen added.
Any specialty’s annual meeting is a highlight of the year, but Dr. Ishman suggests taking advantage of smaller meetings as well. “I am happy to meet with young faculty or with residents at meetings whom I’ve never met before if they make the effort to contact me ahead of time, tell me what they hope to get out of it, and see if they can get a few minutes of my time,” she added. “I did that when I was a resident, fellow, and as a young attending. I said, ‘Hey, you’re a leader in something I’m interested in doing. Can you spend 15 minutes with me at the annual meeting and have a cup of coffee?’” She said those were invaluable conversations for her in terms of helping her frame her career and decide where she wanted to go, both within the Academy and academically.
“People are pretty generous in this specialty, if you contact them ahead of time and take the time to show them you’re organized and you’re excited,” she added.
Another consideration for Dr. Ishman on how to network—particularly at the AAO–HNS annual meeting—is joining the Millennium Society. The society, which requires a minimum $1,000 donation ($250 for residents/fellows), is an investment, said Dr. Ishman.
“It is a smaller venue where a lot of leaders in our specialty, whether they are rhinologists or pediatric otolaryngologists or generalists, tend to come together,” Dr. Ishman said. “I’ve found that paying for access to the Millennium Lounge is worth its weight in gold in having a place to be. … It’s a great place to meet somebody and not have to worry about everybody running off to the next meeting or lecture.”
Eventually, however, everyone at a networking event runs off somewhere. It’s incumbent on otolaryngologists to follow up if they truly want to make networking successful.
“Follow-up after a meeting is essential,” Dr. Setzen said. “If one wants to demonstrate authentic leadership, it’s table stakes. If you don’t send that follow up message or make that call, you may lose that individual’s interest permanently.”
Misner calls that process 24/7/30:
- Within 24 hours, send the person an email, or try the seemingly lost art of sending a handwritten card. (If your handwriting is sloppy, Misner recommends services that will send out legible notes on your behalf.)
- Within a week, connect on social media. Focus on whatever platform that person has on their business card or email signature. Connect where they like to connect to show the person you’re willing to make the effort.
- Within a month, reach out to the person and set a time to talk, either face-to-face or via a telecommunication service like Skype.
“It’s these touch points that you make with people that build the relationship,” Misner said. “Without building a real relationship, there is almost no value in the networking effort because you basically are just waiting to stumble upon opportunities as opposed to building relationships and opportunities. It has to be more than just bumping into somebody at a meeting … otherwise you’re really wasting your time.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance medical writer based in New Jersey.
Part three of this article will focus on building meaningful relationships.