5 things successful people don’t tell you

The problems and pitfalls of networking with VIPs

by Kia Abdullah

There should be a word for it: that crowd of people that surrounds a famous person right after their speech at a conference. Audience members jostle for a vantage point and prepare to pounce as soon as the speaker is free. The hunger for their time is palpable — desperate even.

Unfortunately, this type of fleeting, urgent interaction is rarely fruitful. The speaker may politely shake your hand and repeat your name as if committing it to memory, but I guarantee they’ll forget as soon as they’ve left.

Instead of competing for their attention, take some time to understand their habits instead. I don’t mean how many hours they sleep at night or the 176 things they do before breakfast, but the less-discussed aspects of their social interactions. This will help you understand the challenges and limitations of networking with VIPs.

They actively avoid making new friends

When Barack and Michelle Obama moved to Washington, they put in place a ‘no new friends’ policy.

This may seem counterintuitive for a campaigning politician, but think of it like this: every VIP, celebrity or famous CEO has swarms of people desperate to meet them so that they can get something, be it advice, connections, status or even money.

Social climbers and gold-diggers are wearying, so successful people often opt to ‘freeze’ their circle of friends and instead surround themselves with people who don’t ask for anything. This means they will decline dinner invitations, avoid coffee meetings and wince at the words ‘pick your brain’.

They assess your worth

An exception to the above may be allowed if the would-be connection is with someone higher up the hierarchy.

Mark Zuckerberg, for example, might be more inclined to befriend Elon Musk than he might the founder of a young startup. This is because Musk offers more perceived value.

An online example of this can be found on Twitter where verified users can opt to use a verified feed (i.e. one that filters out the teeming masses and only displays tweets from fellow verified users).

They dislike unnecessary apologies

Successful people dislike receiving messages that start with ‘I’m sorry to bother you or ‘I know you’re really busy but’.

An editor of a UK-based national magazine told me: “Starting with an apology immediately creates a negative connection in my mind. It indicates that, first, you want something without offering anything in return which is why you’re apologising. Second: you know I’m really busy but you’re going to disregard that and carry on anyway.”

Decorum may dictate that we acknowledge intrusions on someone’s schedule but you would do better to jump straight into the flesh of the message. This is more respectful of their time and makes you look less sycophantic.

They test your commitment

It’s not unusual for successful people to field requests for money or time.

A retired California tech executive told Reader’s Digest Australia: “Anytime the newspaper lists my name among the 100 top-paid executives in the area, I get a ton of requests from people asking for money. It happened so much that I had to come up with a strategy to deal with it. Now I say, “I’m happy to give. I’ll match however much you raise yourself.”

This sentiment is echoed by the founder of a popular open-source application: “Each week, I receive dozens of messages volunteering to contribute to the project and very few ever do. One guy emailed me and said, ‘Attached is 70% of the code for your new feature. I’ll have the rest to you next week.’ That stuck out in my mind.”

They are uncomfortable in new social situations

Whether dining with family like the unfortunate doctor lumbered with a $7,000 check or meeting with acquaintances, successful people often feel an unspoken pressure to foot the bill. This can lead to awkward situations and ill feeling when they don’t robustly volunteer to pay. The same applies to lavish tips and gifts.

This implicit expectation makes it all the more refreshing when someone else grabs the bill. It demonstrates that they value good company and conversation — not just success.

So how does one avoid the networking minefield? Start with Thirtymin, an app that connects you to VIPs who are proactively offering their time. Pitch an idea, forge a friendship or share a story. No introduction needed.