Recently, I went to visit casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson in Hangover City.
I mean, Las Vegas.
His folks invited us out to hear him speak at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. In front of a packed student audience, Adelson was his usual mixture of unique contradictions: grandiose but humbled -- "I was poor" -- humorous yet hardline -- "there's no such history as a Palestinian people" -- tough yet soft -- "my wife is a queen, my princess."
Two things struck me. One, the students were clearly enraptured by this man's riches and success, whatever they or you might think of his politics. When he started talking about how he built the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, I saw several of them whip out their smartphones and Google photos of it.
The second is the students' interactions with Adelson afterwards. At a cocktail reception, the students dutifully lined up one by one to ask him a question or two. Most of them were very shy and polite. But a few asked outright, "Mr. Adelson, can I work for you?" Every time I heard that question I thought, no, no, no because the response back was rightful but standard from Adelson: "Contact our HR department."
It's what my friend, Fred Teng, would call a "wasted opportunity" in networking. Now, the UNLV students could be forgiven because they're young but it only underscores how difficult it is for any of us to understand the art of networking and relationship building, much less for those who are starting out in their careers.
About the only thing Teng might have in common with Adelson is they both do business in China -- Adelson in the former Portugese enclave of Macau and Teng as a facilitator of U.S.-China relations. He works closely with the former Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-Hwa. But enough people have asked Teng how to network that he began to give talks on it, especially to groups of young, Chinese students, and recently he shared with me a presentation he gives. Being there on campus with Adelson reminded me again the three basic rules of networking.
1. Turn an opportunity of meeting someone into something meaningful. This is why going up to a billionaire CEO and asking him for a job is entirely the wrong approach. Going up to him and making a meaningful impact goes a long way towards building a relationship. It could be as simple as finding common ground -- maybe you visited his casino and liked a certain aspect or you recently read something about the Marina Bay Sands and wanted to tell him. Whatever the case, finding common ground is an easy way to establish a rapport. And by the way, hogging up someone's time at these events is not the way to make a positive impact.
2. Remember relationship building involves contact, comfort and connection. The thing about these group events is they are an easy way to contact someone you've been eager to approach. Once you do that, the next step is to make that person feel comfortable speaking with you and the third is the holy grail, making that true connection. But that never comes without the prior steps. The other thing to remember, Teng says, is that not everyone you meet is going to like you and vice versa. If that happens, move on. There's 7 billion other people in the world to connect with.
3. Don't forget about you. Teng told me he likes to finish his talks by reminding people about themselves. What do you bring to the table in a relationship? He talks about "looking good" and "feeling good" and being read up on current events, bestselling books, etc. I can't tell you how many times when I'm having a "bad hair day" everything seems to go wrong; but when you feel right, you exude that energy and people feed off of it. It sounds elementary but how often have people gone wrong forgetting about the basic stuff?
A little while later, Adelson, whom I had never met before, and I established our own "relationship-building" before sitting down for the interview. As he was getting powdered and I walked around the palatial suite at the Venetian, I commented, "I notice your toiletries in the bathroom all have Chinese characters on them." (Watch the interview here)
"Oh yea? Well you know," he replied, turning to me with a little smile. "We do a little business over there."
Betty Liu is the Editor-at-Large/Anchor at Bloomberg Television and author of Work Smarts: What CEOs Say You Need to Know to Get Ahead. Buy it at Amazon.com or a signed copy at www.betty-liu.com.