During one of my Idea Climbing interviews with Jonathan Pitts, the founder of the The Chicago Improv Festival! (the largest improv festival in the world) we were discussing how to create great networking conversations and connections. Which lead to the question “What’s the difference between just meeting someone and actually networking with or learning from them?”

Here’s a few lessons we learned with the audience during our conversation (the video has a couple stories not in the copy below).

Jonathan shared a lesson from improv that relates to our business lives. Improvisers build scenes together because they take the time to listen to what the other person is saying and then add to their ideas. In the business world the best way to get to know people is to just be present. LISTEN to them; don’t think about what you’re going to say next or just try to talk about yourself. You need to be present to being open, being available and TRULY connecting with them. Not just small talk, not just an elevator speech and not just random conversations about anything. When you have coffee with someone it’s all about learning what they’re working on and passionate about; NOT thinking “You know, I bet I could convince this person to do this, this and this for me.”

KEY POINT HERE: You can’t go into a conversation with the shark mentality of “I need to feed, I need to sell, I need to get something from everybody”; when you do that you’re just a shark zooming through every interaction as quickly as possible because you’re only looking for blood in the water. BS detectors are on high these days and the other person will sense your selfishness and shut down the relationship before the first conversation ends.

So what do you need to be present to? Be present to discovering how YOU can help THEM. The funny thing about putting the other person FIRST is that when you help THEM, more often than not, they in turn want to help YOU. Go figure…


At this point I asked how to bridge a conversation gap many of us face: What if you want to start a conversation with someone and you don’t want to immediately “pitch” them but you DO want to connect with them? How can you do that? Jonathan offers this advice:

“When you enter into someone else’s space there’s no way they cannot enter into yours. It’s impossible.”

What does that mean and how do you enter into their space with integrity? This means:

You find out about THEM. You connect with THEM about something they’re passionate about. Then you find a way to help them directly, offer advice or offer to connect them to someone that can help.

It’s all about starting the conversation with the focus on THEM. Think about two improvisers stepping onto a stage. The first line of dialogue is just ANYTHING that you say; in most scenes the first line of dialogue is the least important thing said. It’s all about how the other person responds to you that makes the scene.

Say something that shows you’re interested in learning about the other person; anything. Then if you’re LISTENING and you’re OPEN and AVAILABLE you’re on your way to a great conversation and entering into their space. When you do that it’s impossible for the other person to say “Great, thank you for saying that. Now I’m going to leave” They WANT to talk with you and that means you’ve created the opportunity to make a new connections and learn from somebody.

Who will YOU reach out to today to connect with?