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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  April 24, 2013

ConnecTED: How to Network with Prominent People

Originally published for RainToday.com

Last month I was privileged to attend TED, the invitation-only event in Long Beach, California.  I joined 1,499 other folks to hear from brilliant people doing cool stuff.  A wide variety of thought leaders attended–from celebrities to CEOs, from scientists to angel investors.  It was a group that would be polite but not suffer fools gladly.  The networking bar there is high.

I was the new kid on the block, so not knowing a soul I set out without introductions or a reputation to precede me.  From a stranger’s perspective, here are three lessons I learned about how to network with high-end folks at high-end events.

1.  Reach Out First

A week before going to the conference, I got the “facebook,” a printed yearbook of all attendees that included their names and photos.  I also got an email with the “top ten people you should meet” from the organizers.  I chose the people with whom I thought I had the most in common, looked them up, and sent each a personal email.

The only thing standard here was who I was and that I was new to TED.  I explained what I had in common with them (“we’re both from Arizona” or “you were in my top ten list”) and asked if they were available to meet with me.  And if there was something I could offer them, I did so.

Example:  One contact loved abstract art.  I sent him a link to my favorite artist and told him why I liked that artist.  He replied immediately and offered possible times to connect.  We hit it off immediately, and he has already referred me.

Lesson learned:  Sending customized emails was worth the day I spent to send them.  I had meetings scheduled before the event, so I felt less “new and lost” when I got there.  Those meetings also gave me that extra boost to approach people and introduce myself.

2.  Connect First

The biggest difference between TED and industry conferences I’ve attended was the protocol on marketing your services.  There were no fewer than four occasions that TED organizers said in writing “use this information to market TEDsters, and you will be banned forever.”  (Yes, they said it nicer than this.)

So, instead of introducing myself by what I do (market strategy for thought leaders), I introduced myself by where I was from (“Hi, I’m Vickie Sullivan from the Phoenix area”).  This gave us a chance to talk about our areas, the weather, etc., before we asked each other what we did.  This created a personal connection that drove curiosity about what we do for a living.

Example:  I met a venture capitalist while waiting to get a latte.  I asked him what projects he’s interested in.  I then gave him the names of two people I just heard give presentations about innovations in that area.  My passion for those folks (who weren’t clients) was contagious.  He asked me what I did and offered to help one of my clients.  Beautiful.

Lesson learned:  Appeal to the personal first.  Folks will ask you what you do after you’ve proven yourself interesting.

3.  Give First

Everyone knows volunteering is a great way to learn more about an organization and the people involved.  That insight can get easily lost when looking for opportunities and meeting the right people.  Sometimes it’s better to forego quick clients and focus on deeper relationships.  The key is to be open, and when you see a way to pitch in, jump on it.

Example:  One of my first meetings was with a fellow Arizonan.  She is one of the kindest women I’ve ever met.  Within 10 seconds, we were talking about her passion for the TED Fellows program.  This led to an animated discussion about mentoring, my biggest passion.  A few introductions and one lunch later, I was in love with these brilliant people, too.  Instead of wanting their business, I wanted to volunteer.  Within a week, she invited me to be a mentor for the SupporTED program.  I am beyond thrilled at this opportunity to give back.

Lesson learned:  Give first.  Don’t worry about getting paid or getting clients.  Volunteering your talents first shows your commitment to the community.  Your efforts also pave the way to get to know folks up close and personal.  From those relationships, anything can happen.

Let’s Explore

There are times in our business that we need to move beyond the communities where we are already known–to venture out and be willing to meet total strangers without the safety net our professional friends provide.  By extending ourselves first in these three ways, we open the door for more conversations, more relationships, and more opportunities.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.