Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series on networking. Part two will run in next month’s issue of ENTtoday.
Ivan Misner once spent a week on Necker Island, the tony 74-acre isle in the British Virgin Islands that is entirely owned by billionaire Richard Branson, because he met a guy at a convention, and he’s really, really good at networking.
“I stayed in touch with the person, and when there was an opportunity, I got invited to this incredible ethics program on Necker, where I had a chance to meet Sir Richard,” said Misner, founder and chairman of BNI (Business Network International), a three-decade-old global business networking platform based in Charlotte, N.C., that has led CNN to call him “the father of modern networking.”
“It all comes from building relationships with people,” he added.
The power of networking shouldn’t be lost on otolaryngologists, particularly early-career physicians, fellows, and residents. From attending the annual meetings of the Triological Society and the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery to taking part in local mixers and plumbing social media for contacts, building relationships can be a career boon. Sometimes the purpose is to broaden your network in the hopes of advancing on an employment path. At other times it’s to introduce yourself to practice leaders in research or clinical niches. Or you may be looking for exposure to thought leaders, top researchers, and national power brokers who could provide access, insight, or both in the future.
“It’s that connection with other people,” said Robert Miller, MD, MBA, executive director-emeritus of the American Board of Otolaryngology and immediate past editor of ENTtoday. “The goal is you want to be able to connect with others who may be of value to you in your career and who will value you in their careers and business, etc. It’s really a two-way street. If you say, ‘I’ve got to develop this network,’ it almost sounds like this is all for my benefit and not theirs, when, in reality, everyone in the network benefits from it.”
Sounds great. But how do you actually build a network?
Stretch Your Comfort Zone
First, make sure your approach doesn’t feel “artificial,” Misner said. “A lot of people, when they go to some kind of networking environment, they feel like they need a shower afterward and think, ‘Ick, I don’t like that,’” he added. “The best way to become an effective networker is to go to networking events with the idea of being willing to help people, and really believe in that and practice that. I’ve been doing this a long time, and where I see it done wrong is when people use face-to-face networking as a cold-calling opportunity.”
Lisa Ishii, MD, MHS, professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and chief quality officer at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and a member of ENTtoday’s editorial advisory board, said it’s important to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. “It does require someone to stretch beyond their comfort zone,” she added. “But that’s absolutely what they should do. You can travel to national meetings to do that. You can, now … make connections through social media. You can become part of forums with people who are not part of your typical group. There are so many opportunities now.
“It’s really just a matter of stretching yourself to do it,” added Dr. Ishii. “It’s much more comfortable and easy to stay within your immediate group; however, then you’re going to end up with a limited point of view. If you stretch yourself to seek other ideas, thoughts, innovative ways to address problems, then you’ll come up with a more comprehensive [network].”
It’s much more comfortable and easy to stay within your immediate group; however, then you’re going to end up with a limited point of view. If you stretch yourself to seek other ideas, thoughts, innovative ways to address problems, then you’ll come up with a more comprehensive [network]. —Lisa Ishii, MD, MHS
Stepping outside someone’s comfort zone is an important point, Dr. Miller said. A network that stops at the walls of a given institution, in a specific geographic area, or even just within the bounds of otolaryngology, isn’t enough. The same goes with reaching out across academic versus private settings, male versus female physicians, and a wide range of races and creeds.
“What I think is a much more powerful network is one that is very wide, very deep, and diverse,” Dr. Miller added. “And when I say diverse, I’m not talking about one characteristic of a human being versus another; it’s just people who are not like us. For example, I have connections with people in the healthcare business world, or the healthcare insurance industry, or some people who are not in healthcare at all.”
While the classic image of networking is attending local, regional, or national events, Dr. Ishii said that the proliferation of social media sites such as LinkedIn is game-changing for building relationships. “It’s enabling people to stay connected in a way that they were never able to do,” she said. “At the click of a button, you can be reading about what someone was doing. With Twitter, with Instagram, with Facebook, with Snapchat, we have instant access with people all of the time. If anything, one has to be careful to limit oneself to not spending hours a day just browsing around, seeing what people are up to. But, with discipline, obviously, it’s a great tool to stay connected with people.”
Don’t Be Shy
Dr. Ishii also noted that early-career otolaryngologists can sometimes be nervous to approach a stranger in an attempt to build a relationship. But, 12 years into her career, she remembers the people who helped her and now works to do the same for others. She says most otolaryngologists do. “Absolutely, it’s been my experience that there are many people who appreciate the concept of paying it forward,” Dr. Ishii added. “When they have been helped, they plan on helping others.”
Part two of this article will focus on how to prepare for and foster networking opportunities at conferences.
Richard Quinn is a freelance medical writer based in New Jersey.