Five Good Ideas ®

Five Good Ideas about taking networking to the next level

Published on 25/10/2018

It’s not just about who you know – but about the meaningful ways you can exchange value with others. That’s the key to effective networking, and the cornerstone for connections that last. In this Five Good Ideas session, Emily Mills, founder of How She Hustles, shared networking techniques that helped her build a virtual village of 10,000 diverse women and sell out networking events for almost a decade. She offered practical advice on how you can tap into your network, cultivate deeper relationships, and expand your personal and professional circle.

Five Good Ideas

  1. Focus on what matters to people. NOT just knowing more people.
  2. Don’t just ask. GIVE. Think about ways you can add value to others.
  3. Go digital. Making connections on social media is critical.
  4. Remember that famous movie line from Jerry McGuire: “Help me, help you!” Tell your network that you need help – people are often keen to help you succeed.
  5. Step out of your comfort zone regularly. Find places and spaces where you know nobody – and then expand your network.



Full session transcript 

I’d like to start our conversation today by actually asking for your help. I’m going to pose a few questions, and ask if you will put up your hand if my question resonates with you. Don’t worry, it’s nothing difficult. They’re not going to embarrass anybody. Does that sound okay? Alright, here we go.

How many people in this room came here alone today? Keep your hands up. How many people here today know absolutely no one in the room? How many people here today are a little nervous about networking? I saw some hands go up.

Okay. So, just by that one exercise, that was almost everyone in the room.

The reason I asked you to do that was pretty simple. To show you that you’re not alone. Most of the time when you walk into a room, there’s either somebody who also walked into a room by themselves, or also has a bit of butterflies about why they’re there. Rather than think about that as, “Oh my gosh, this is terrifying, everybody’s freaked out,” what you want to do is think about that as a shared feeling. That’s actually a shared opportunity. Everybody has the chance to meet somebody new.

Most people in the room are not walking in and knowing everyone. So that’s a great common ground, and a good starting point. So with that I want to encourage you to remember that every time you walk into a room. And whether you love networking, like me, and you get energized and excited, or whether it really freaks you out, you can read the room silently, and just keep that in the back of your mind. This is actually representative of a lot of rooms that you’ve been into.

Now, for today, I’ve been asked to share five good ideas. I’m going to tell you they’re not new ideas. They’re not original ideas. But I hope they’re valuable ideas, regardless of how you feel about networking. So, here we go.

We’re going to start with number one. I’m going to share my idea, and a little story that goes with it. The idea’s pretty simple. Focus on what matters to people, not just knowing more people. Because lots of people are like, “Oh my gosh, I know everybody in the room.” That’s not really what effective networking is about.

I’m going to take you back a few years to my first job out of university. Just to help illustrate this. So, when I went to journalism school, my first job was at a huge media company; it wasn’t CBC. I was a new kid on the block, and it was a big block. There were hundreds of people who worked there. And I remember when you were the new person, the intern, the new staff, especially when you’re young, and trying to prove yourself — people have different ways of figuring out how to network.

I would say there were three that I saw very commonly. Number one is people who just spray the room. Walk into any office, and it’s “Hi, how you doin’.” “Hi, I’m Emily.” “Hi, how you doin’.” “Hi, I’m Emily.” “Hi, how you doin’.” We know what that’s like, right. You walk into an event, and it’s just like, super speed with the business cards. You’re laughing because I know you know what I’m talking about. So, that was one.

Number two was the people who didn’t want to know everybody. They wanted everybody to know them. You know what I’m talking about. “Hi, I’m Emily!” “Hi, I’m Emily!” The people who are real attention seekers in every circumstance, even when it wasn’t appropriate.

The third one is the people who are a little bit like this [touches nose]. The way they networked was —they only wanted to know the important people: the on-air personalities, the powerful producers. They didn’t mingle with us common folk.

For me, my approach was about thinking about what really mattered. And to me that was about finding humble, generous people that I could connect with, not because of what we did, but just because we had good energy and good spirits.

The interesting part is, one of the first places that I found those people wasn’t in the newsroom at all. Anybody guess where it was? Hey, who said that? In the kitchen! Wise woman. In the cafeteria. You could never go wrong with the cafeteria folks, I tell you.

I met a fantastic woman. Let’s call her Rhoda. We clicked instantly. She just had such a wonderful, warm spirit. And she just had a way of hustling with her team, and motivating people to deal with the line, and get the food out, and crack some jokes. But also, she just had an energy that I could relate to. And I could see her leadership, and I could see her humanity. And I could tell that a lot of other people didn’t. She was just the help.

We started to get to know each other. Meal after meal, day after day. Even started to connect with each other over breaks, informally. Some time passed. And then there was a breaking news story. A young man, 23 years old, who was from Toronto, and was down in the United States. He was on a basketball scholarship in Pittsburgh. And one night, as he was coming out of a party, he was shot. Brain fragments shattered in his brain. He spent an incredible amount of time in rehabilitation in the States.

Of course, when you work in a newsroom, when big stories like that happen, you’re on the chase. Which means you’re looking for somebody who can connect you to the story, who can bring you closer, who can give you context. Everybody, including those three personality types I talked about earlier, was on the chase. And then there was me, new kid on the block, trying to figure out — how can I get the right guest to talk about this story.

So guess where I went? Back into the cafeteria. “Hey Miss Rhoda, how ya doin’. Man, did you hear about this terrible story? You know, we’re trying to figure out is there any way we can get this story.” Miss Rhoda being the amazing woman she was, said — I think she was Nigerian, and I won’t pretend to do a Nigerian accent — but basically said, “Guess what. I know this young man’s family. I know his mom.”

Because we had spent some time building that rapport, and what didn’t seem like “networking” Rhoda became the person who didn’t just prepare my meals, she helped prepare this mother for a big news organization to call her. The end of the story is, because of Rhoda, the lady who worked in the cafeteria, who was just awesome, we ended up getting this young man’s family — brother and mother — on national television. Meaningful relationships — you never know where, when, and how you will find them.

Big idea number one. How we doin’? Okay.

Number two. Don’t just ask. Give. Think about ways that you can add value all the time. I’m going to share another little story. About a year ago, there was a huge personality who came to Toronto. Really powerful woman. Can anybody guess who it is? Anybody remember? Michelle Obama! Right, that’s right. Sure, okay, Hillary, but. Alright, Michelle. Okay. Leave that right there.

Michelle Obama. So for somebody like me, I will say, my hashtag for that whole time was #BlackGirlMagic, times infinity. It was just like, rock star came to town. It was amazing. I’d heard that she was coming to town. Economic Club, Plan Canada, Ryerson University. It was like the talk of the town. But the tickets were five hundred dollars. I didn’t have five hundred dollars.

I had also heard that there were tickets for young people in the community. That there was a set of subsidized tickets for young people that they could apply to, to make sure that emerging leaders could be in the audience. I really wanted to go to Michelle Obama. But more importantly, I really wanted other people who didn’t have the kind of access I had to go and see Michelle Obama. I recognized my own privilege. I had had some great opportunities to that point, and I thought — I need to pay this forward.

I had met the President of the Economic Club just once, at an event somewhat similar to this. Of course, you know how they do — it’s swanky, nice hotels. But a very similar kind of lunchtime gathering as this. And I remember at that event they were talking about diversity and inclusion.

At the end of the event, probably like this event at the end, it was a lot of talking and a lot of activity. And I remember walking up to the President of the Economic Club, and saying, “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Emily. I’m so happy to see that you had such a candid conversation about diversity and inclusion with corporate Canada. If there’s anything that I can do for you in the future, let me know. I really hope we can collaborate.”

And that was it. I didn’t follow up with her, I didn’t email her. This was months before Michelle Obama. But what I did do was start following her on social media. I signed up for her newsletter, started paying more attention to her programming. When Michelle Obama’s announcement came out, that gave me the confidence — because I knew that I was paying attention to her brand — to pick up the phone, knees shaking, and call her.

Surprise! She picked up her direct line. Ooh. “Hi, this is Rhiannon Traill from the Economic Club.” I was like, “Uh, um, hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but we met a cou–” “Of course I remember you, I’ve been following your stuff on social media! I know all about this How She Hustles thing, da da da da da da da. What can I do for you today?”

What I said to her was pretty much this:

“Listen — amazing that you’re planning this event. I’m sure you have tons of people calling you for free tickets. I’m surprised you even picked up your phone. But I’m calling for a very different reason. Do you need any help? And I don’t mean help as in can I come and register, although, if you need that I’m happy to do it. But help as in, I heard you speak a couple months ago about inclusion, and really creating a more inclusive outreach strategy for your organization. Can I be of help now?

Because I’ve got two networks that I think would be really useful for you. One is a group of diverse women, many of them Black, professional women who could purchase tickets. And two is connections to a lot of incredible women who do front line work with young people, and I understand young people can apply for free tickets. Do you need help getting the word out?”

The end of the story — Yes, I got to meet Michelle Obama. She’s amazing. And yes, I hugged her, like the Queen. I was like, “Oh my gosh!” She’s a hugger, she hugged me first! I was like, “Oh my God! Never washing this blazer.”

I did get to meet Michelle Obama, but more importantly, because of just that one phone call, we were able to get the word out to over a hundred front line youth workers, and many of the young people in communities across the city applied and were able to attend the event.

And even more amazingly, because of this really authentic and giving spirit that we kind of mirrored to each other, we were able to arrange a table of ten for a group of young, Black women who I felt embodied the kind of leadership our city needed to see. None of those women even knew that this was happening until they got the call that they were getting a seat at the table.

So, again, I just want to encourage you. Sometimes the most powerful things can happen when we start from a place of giving.

Third idea. We can give, but especially in this room, I’d imagine there’s a lot of people who really hesitate to ask. Am I right? I see some heads nodding. Especially in many of the sectors that you represent. We’re often expected to be the experts, to always have it together and be perfect. And asking, sometimes, can be misinterpreted as a signal of weakness. People are going to think, “Oh no, they don’t have it together. They’re not organized. Why are you asking?”

I don’t think so. When you ask, I think it’s from a wonderful place of strength and humility. It shows people you can be strong, but also shows you don’t have all the answers.

I’m going to share a little story with you about a project called HERstory in Black. I don’t know if anybody’s heard about it. HERstory in Black was a project that I created through my network How She Hustles. And very briefly — How She Hustles is a community that I’ve been running. We do events in the city, specifically for diverse women. And we also run a pretty vibrant online space through my different social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube.

So two years ago, I was working at CBC as a Communications Officer. And I remember Canada was getting really excited for the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Obviously, there was a much bigger dialogue about what that meant. But as the public broadcaster, CBC was getting ready to mark the sesquicentennial.

I remember thinking — all of these amazing women who come to How She Hustles events (and they’re not all Black women, but my core is that demographic), are they going to be reflected in our narrative of Canada? In what’s on the airwaves? Radio, television, online? And I wasn’t sure.

So I decided to build what I wanted to see. And that project became HERstory in Black. It was a digital photo series of 150 Black women from all different backgrounds. And these were the women who didn’t have the corner office yet. Young women, many of them under 40, who were just at that point where you could see the trajectory of their leadership. And so, I wanted to make sure that those women making a difference, right here, right now, were being acknowledged.

Thank you. This is one of the ladies who was also featured, there’s another woman here. Thank you Karen and Amanda.

So what does this have to do with asking? Liz knows, I’m bold. So, here was my bold way of asking.

Instagram. Midnight. Dun dun dun.

I created a title for the project — HERstory in Black. I created a graphic. I created a tagline. I knew my concept, and I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to photograph 150 women from all kinds of professions. And then have each of them share their own story on social media.

But here’s what I didn’t have — no money, no sponsor, no formal team, no venue, no media partner. Here’s what I did have — vision, determination, faith, and an incredible network that I knew would support me if I stepped out and said, “I need help.”

So that’s what I did. Posted my vision on Instagram, and I was like, “Okay, I don’t have this, but I have this, and I’m asking for your help.” You can only imagine what happened. The response was overwhelming. People loved the idea.

What did I end up with? An incredible team of people in the communities — photographers, videographers, event planners, makeup artists, caterers. People actually helped me crowd fund for the project, put in their own money to make sure that we could hire the photographers, some of them part-time students, so they could be paid for their craft. We were able to get everything we needed to go and pitch CBC. They came on board, which is wonderful.

And the end result was this — and I’ll share it very quickly so that I can move on — but HERstory in Black became, I think, a transformative project, not just for me, not just for CBC, but for a whole generation of women. Many generations of women, as a matter of fact.

The project turned into one week of dedicated TV coverage. Every day there was a story on CBC News Network. Every day there was a story on Metro Morning, the number one radio show in the city. CBC’s The National did stories. They built a microsite. They did a one-hour TV documentary.

Some of the women were featured in a limited-edition book. Some of the women were featured in a national campaign. We hosted a 400-person cocktail gala at CBC. We got a retweet from the Prime Minister to his three million followers. That’s not bad.

But it also sparked spinoff projects. It was scaled up, and they found women from across the country, and created another project with a similar theme. And even after I left CBC, they created another version of HERstory in Black with younger women.

Can you imagine what would’ve happened if I didn’t ask? Think about the projects in your world, in your work. Where you just need to ask. Maybe it’s colleagues, your professional network. Maybe it’s somebody on social media. It’s an idea. Think about it.

Idea four. Go digital. Make connections on social media. It is an incredibly powerful space to be in, especially now. Not everybody has the luxury to come into a room like this in the middle of the day in downtown Toronto. But almost everybody has a device. At least, many people do in our city. Not everyone, but many people do. Or at least, hopefully, access to online spaces.

So, in terms of going digital. I just want to share some points with you that I hope will be helpful. First is, the most critical strategy for digital engagement, is exactly that — engagement. That means, you don’t spend all day every day promoting, and then you’re gone. “Hi, I’m Emily Mills, and this is what I do” —and then you’re gone. No.

What engagement means is, you are going to, in very practical ways, take the opportunity to like, comment, and share. It’s like those three things. Keep that in the back of your mind. Like something that somebody else posted on LinkedIn, Facebook, it could be any platform.

Like it. Great. Comment. What do you think? Do you have an opinion? Do you want to congratulate? Do you want to tag somebody else who should know about this? Share. I get no kickback from this but I just believe in what you’re doing. I just think what you’re doing is amazing, and I’m going to tell the world, so I’m sharing it. That’s a great starting point for engagement.

Want to go a little deeper, you might even want to think about the content you create. Are you just posting things, or are you asking a question and stimulating a conversation?

Can I also say that people like free things. That’s a great way to engage. Surprise and delight people. “Hey everyone, anybody want to join me at xxx? Comment below, and I’ll pick some lucky person who just needs a great afternoon out that’s inspiring.” Engage your audience. Use the tool to do more than promotion.

In terms of two very practical things I wanted to share with you. When you’re going digital, and using different platforms, whatever you’re using to network, also think about how you access your digital library, your data. All of the information that is connected to your account.

Last night, for the first time, I went into both my LinkedIn and my Facebook, and downloaded my entire contact list for both accounts. You can google it, I did. Just googled it. There are instructional videos you can watch on Youtube, or very easy step-by-step websites that can explain what to do.

Think about the last time you actually looked through your list and contacted everyone. I’m not suggesting that’s what you have to do, but I think it’s a great place to start to even know who’s in your network. Many people probably forget. Once I downloaded my list, I realized I was a part of groups on Facebook that I haven’t checked in years.

So now that I have all of this data at my disposal, including my entire LinkedIn list with names, titles, emails — that’s what’s available to you — now I can spend some time to think about the first three points we talked about. Who do I want to make a meaningful connection with? Who can I give something to? And who do I have an ask of? Makes sense? Alright.

Last, last, last point. Idea number five. For me, it’s really important to step out of my comfort zone regularly. To go into rooms, places, and spaces where I really know nobody. So, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, well how do you even know about the places then, if you don’t know anybody?”

One of my suggestions is right on your sheets. There’s two that I think are pretty easy to implement. One is Eventbrite. What a great place to find out about events in the city. It’s like — I don’t know anyone, I don’t know anything about this group. But you can search by categories. You can even search by mood. You can search by date. So you can just put in, like, today, frisky, Toronto, click. What’s going to pop up — okay, let’s go! Right? It’s a great place to find things.

You can also search, and follow a feed. So, one of the things that constantly interests me, of course, is events about women entrepreneurship. And you can actually continue to follow that, and see what pops up that’s new. And, of course, when you register for things, they often have suggestions of what else is like that. I encourage you to really consider taking a closer look at sites like Eventbrite. As well as follow a hashtag. It’s an easy way, without stepping out of your comfort zone, to get in on a conversation. Find a hashtag that interests you. And then find a way to follow that conversation online.

I’ve also included a link on there for Business Insider — 20 Tips for Networking. There are three that I really wanted to highlight as that will help you step out of your comfort zone. One is make your introductions more interesting. I’m working on this too.

People will come up to me, “Hi, Emily, nice to meet you. What do you do?” My answer — “The coolest job I have is a mom. I’ve got a four- and five-year old, they’re in JK and SK. You can only imagine what my mornings are like.” That’s a great conversation starter. People are like, “Ooh. What is your breakfast routine like?”

Number two is prepare. Not everybody is an extrovert. Not everybody’s comfortable getting up on a microphone like I am. So, think about what may you want to say when you walk into a room, especially when you know nobody. Is there something new that you’re working on, or that you’re passionate about? Or something that’s a current affairs issue that everybody’s buzzing about. That’s a great place to start a conversation.

And lastly, if you’re doing connections online, think about what I read in this amazing Business Insider article, “The Double Opt In Intro.” A great way to be a powerful networker. I’m going to meet Amanda, let’s say, at a party for the first time. And then I meet Karen, at a party, for the first time.

Rather than just introduce them right away because I think maybe they should know each other, I’m going to send a private email to Karen, and say, “Hey, I met Amanda, here’s why I think you should know each other.” And I’m going to send the same thing to Karen. And let’s see if they both respond, and say, “Sure, happy to connect.”

You know what that makes you look like? You’ve just become a great asset to two people. As opposed to becoming the self-promotional person to one.

So the five good ideas that I wanted to just recap with you today. To underscore — focus on people, and what matters to them, and having meaningful relationships with people, as opposed to just knowing a ton. That’s one. Number two. Don’t forget, give. Number three. Don’t be afraid to ask. People love to help. It’s a great way to build your network. Four, use digital and social as much as you can. And lastly, step out of your comfort zone.

Thank you very much.

Emily Mills

Founder, How She Hustles

Connecting people is a life-long passion for Emily Mills, an award-winning senior communicator and the founder of How She Hustles. Eight years ago, Emily founded How She Hustles, a network that connects diverse women through social media and Toronto events. She’s hosted 17 buzz-worthy events from women’s brunches to entrepreneur panels that have consistently sold out and trended on Twitter, with up to 400 guests from Olympians to CEOs. Previously, Emily was a senior communications officer at CBC, one of Canada’s largest media companies. Her responsibilities included marketing plans, community engagement and talent relations for top-rated shows like Metro Morning with Matt Galloway. Last year, Emily created HERstory in Black, a digital photo series featuring 150 inspiring black women that she successfully pitched to CBC. The project earned the attention of the Prime Minister on social media, national press coverage, became a one-hour TV documentary, and lead to an unprecedented celebration. For this innovative work, Emily and her colleagues won the 2017 CBC President’s Award. She was also named a 2017 CivicAction DiverseCity Fellow and is featured in this year’s 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women book. Emily holds degrees in journalism and music, and has studied public relations. She’s been an invited speaker by Twitter Canada, Lean in Canada, YWCA Canada, and more. She enjoys life with her two energetic sons and husband. Connect with her on LinkedIn or @howshehustles on Twitter and Instagram.