When Harvard and Stanford teach networking, they look to Heidi Roizen. Here are her top tips.

When Harvard and Stanford teach networking, they look to Heidi Roizen. Here are her top tips.

Networking. The word itself says it all: limp handshakes, sweaty palms, pretentious finger food. Work. I am exhausted just thinking about it. And can someone tell me how I’m supposed to juggle a white wine spritzer while I root around my handbag for a business card?

Heidi Roizen, Silicon Valley’s legendary networker, would do away with the very term. “What is networking? I hate that term. It’s really about building an interesting collection of people around you,” she said.

I caught up with Roizen shortly after she returned from a walk with a young man who had recently moved to the Bay Area. His mother had briefly met Roizen, a senior venture partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), at a networking event and suggested they get in touch.

In addition to her day job investing in some of the Valley’s most promising start-ups, Heidi is on the board for several public companies, including TiVo; she’s a professor at Stanford and an entrepreneur in her own right. She is so connected that they teach a case study about her skills at building business networks at the leading business schools.

So why would she make time for this wide-eyed newcomer?

“If you’re backing start-ups, you better be working with the 20-year-old entrepreneurs. He or she might be the next Zuckerberg,” Roizen explained.

Here are Heidi Roizen’s “do’s and don’ts” for networking like a pro:

  • Do followup: Enjoyed a conversation on a more meaningful topic than stock markets or the weather? Connect on LinkedIn or send a courtesy email. If nothing else, their contact info will remain in your database. “It’s my quick and dirty way of keeping track of every interesting person I’ve ever met,” Roizen explained.
  • Do keep your promises: If you’ve promised to keep in touch or make an introduction, do it. Your word is your bond.
  • Do your homework: “How can you optimize the 1 minute window of time you have to talk to someone if you don’t know their background or interests?” asked Roizen. Before attending an event, review the list of attendees. Do you have mutual friends? Are there any potential professional contacts? If you recognize a potentially valuable contact, don’t shy away from reaching out to them prior to the event to suggest meeting up.
  • Don’t try to meet everyone: “It’s crazy to go in and have some kind of quota,” said Roizen. Imagine you’re walking into a room full of strangers. Your goal should not be too meet every person at the event. It’s more likely that there are 2 or 3 people that you can connect with on some level. “It’s not easy to figure out if you share the same ethics, but find out, for example, if you bike in the same neighborhood or have kids in the same grade,” Roizen suggests.
  • Do respond: The golden rule? “When people reach out to me I always respond to them. Even if it’s to say: “I’m sorry I can’t help you,” she said.
  • Do connect people: It’s been 30 years since she started her first company in the Valley. Roizen has made thousands of connections and helped countless friends and acquaintances land their dream job. The lesson? Even if it won’t benefit you tomorrow, your efforts usually pay off in the long-run.
  • Do give before you get: Don’t attend a networking event for the purpose of seeking out your new boss. “One of my techniques is to start with something you can give,” she said. Roizen suggests sending an article on an interesting topic or making an introduction.

To make the most out of an event or conference, Roizen suggests showing up early to meet the high-profile speakers. Thanks to tools like LinkedIn, you’re only 3 separations degrees of separation away from everyone, including your career idols. Tell us, have you ever manufactured a meeting with someone you admire?

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