People often ask how we are able to attract such amazing panelists for Women in the Boardroom events. I know how they feel. I, too, am thrilled when I meet our speakers, hear their powerful advice and watch them in action.
It’s a complex question, but relevant to all women who want to gain a seat in the boardroom. How do you identify the right connections and woo those important people? To start my answer, I’ll share my Christie Hefner story.
Christie Hefner, as most will recognize, is the brilliant CEO who transformed her father’s Playboy Enterprises into a cutting-edge corporation. In 2006, Women in the Boardroom took our show on the road for the first time. Our debut city: Chicago, home to Ms. Hefner. I had to get her on the panel!
I had met a well-connected Chicagoan at a national directors meeting, who said she knew Ms. Hefner and suggested she would support our mission. A promise to put us in touch didn’t materialize. So I hit the internet, called up Playboy for names and numbers, and dialed her assistant over and over – until one day I reached her.
I am a great admirer of Christie Hefner, I said, and I understand she is interested in speaking to our group, to help the next generation of women leaders. Hesitantly, the assistant said she would have to check. She mentioned that October 3rd appeared to be open. Perfect, I said. We would work around her schedule and have the event that day. And after many more calls and e-mails, we did, featuring the fabulous Ms. Hefner and attracting a delighted crowd.
What lessons can I draw from that anecdote, which I admit reveals that I like the direct approach and I never give up? First, feel no fear. This comes naturally to some, but you can develop a fearless attitude if you work on it. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen? Chances are it is not that bad.
Second, networking is not all about you. The women who speak at our events or connect us to important people want to help other women succeed. They are honored to participate and they are glad to give back. Whatever you are seeking, make sure to articulate what’s in it for others.
Third, be genuine. I really truly admire these women. I learn about them and follow their accomplishments. I gush like a groupie when I get the chance to meet them, and I have fun introducing one great woman to another. People respond to sincerity: you cannot fake it.
Fourth, do the work. Powerful people will take on only those projects that seem well managed by serious people. So, for example, our events are carefully organized to respect the speakers’ time, and the word gets around. When you meet someone important, don’t waste the opportunity with a vague description of your assets or a basic question that anyone could answer. If you want a mentor, request specific help in a tightly controlled time frame. Unfocused requests scare away the busy person.
My fifth lesson is most important: When you say you will do something, do it. So many people don’t follow through on their promises, and people notice. I like to write notes on a person’s business card, explain when I can deliver and then get it done. Otherwise I’m just a big talker – and no one wants one of those in the boardroom.