- Create a diverse network of givers.
Who should you be adding to your network in the first place? Generous people from a wide variety of industries, Levy says. Prioritize personality over perceived “usefulness.”
“It’s adding diversity to your network that truly helps it. The reason is, every time you add an additional person that’s in your industry, you’re not expanding your network very much because you all probably know the same people,” he says.
For example, Levy became friends with the founder of Wizard World Comicon, Gareb Shamus, someone completely unrelated to Levy’s industry. “Nobody would think that investing in that relationship makes any sense! He’s a wonderful guy, and one of the most generous people I’ve had the pleasure to know,” he says.
- Stay away from drama.
“I’m in full support of providing value and helping people who are struggling, but I fundamentally will not allow my network to be exposed to people who are negative and have the potential to bring them down. It’s insidious, and it spreads through the network very quickly,” Levy says.
- Don’t be afraid of making a fool of yourself.
If you’re serious about making a name for yourself, you’ll need to be willing to embarrass yourself in front of powerful people.
Speaking about himself, Levy says, “I think the only people who would probably embarrass themselves more over time are people who are far, far, far more successful. Like the [Richard] Bransons of the world.”
There are going to be times when you’re not going to appear as funny or impressive as you’d like, but as with anything else, you should make note of how your social interactions failed and improve the next time.
Levy actually plays with the way he tells stories and introduces himself either in person or over email to see how people react, and then adjusts accordingly.
- Don’t impose yourself on others.
“One of the fundamental mistakes I made at the beginning was thinking that people enjoyed all the things I liked,” Levy says.
He would take an “older sibling” approach and try to get his introverted connections to behave like him, an extrovert. For example, if he tried to get a shy person to retell a story he enjoyed in front of a large crowd, he ended up putting that person into an incredibly uncomfortable situation.
Whether you’re introducing people or hosting them at an event, you should always be aware that it’s not your job to get people to behave a certain way.
- Understand that not everyone will like you, and that’s OK.
“At a certain point, I realized that there’s a percentage of the population that no matter what you do or say, they’re just not going to like you, and it’s beyond your control,” Levy says.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on yourself and develop yourself and learn to make people more comfortable, but at a certain point it’s like, what are you trying to accomplish?”
If it turns out that a coworker or even a childhood hero of yours doesn’t like your personality even when you’re at your best, then simply move on and spend time with someone else.
- Have a topic prepared to start a conversation.
Everyone’s been in a situation where you’re stuck with a stranger and neither of you has anything to say. So instead of talking about the weather or your commute, says Levy, “I always have a story of something I’ve been doing recently or a book that I’ve been reading.”
“Otherwise I hate the ‘interview’ setting, which is what happens when it’s like, ‘So what do you do? I do this. What do you do?’ That’s sharing facts, not insights. It’s not connecting,” he says.
- Tell a story that is clear and compelling.
When you tell a story, make sure it has a clear point and a punchline, whether it’s a takeaway or a joke. You should strive to be memorable when you’re meeting new people, and the best way to do so is through good storytelling.
- End conversations gracefully.
“I used to be absolutely awful, really awkward, at ending conversations,” Levy says, laughing. “The last moments of a conversation will define how people remember you, so you want to get really good at a solid ending,” instead of being rudely (or strangely) abrupt.
Over the phone, wait for a lull in the conversation and then give an indication that you need to be excused for something else or are happy with how the conversation went. Tell them it was a pleasure speaking with them and that you’ll make sure to follow up on certain points.
In person, Levy says he always takes an extra beat to make eye contact with the person he’s finished speaking with so that it doesn’t seem as if he’s running away.
- Keep meetings brief.
There’s no need to let an introductory meeting with a new connection last longer than 45 minutes, Levy says. And if you’re grabbing coffee or lunch, the ideal is probably a half hour.
“It’s better to leave the conversation having something to talk about and feeling like you need to connect again rather than feeling that the energy’s died,” Levy says.
- Be open. People are ultimately unpredictable.
You can’t be uptight if you’re looking to become a great networker. Do what you can to connect with people who are interesting, and don’t waste time with those who don’t mesh with your personality.
“One of the fundamental issues that we face as people is we are acutely aware of the things we tell ourselves to be aware of and then are aware of virtually nothing else,” Levy says.