What Richard Branson Can Teach You about Networking

I recently had a phone conversation with someone who was asking me about the importance of eye contact when networking.  I answered his question with an interesting story about Richard Branson and I’d like to share that story with you here because I think it demonstrates a point that’s definitely worth remembering.

One of the many intriguing things about Richard Branson is that he has this laser-focus eye contact.  When he is talking to you, he’s not looking to his left, looking to his right, or anywhere else other than directly at you–he gives you his full attention.

I remember talking with Richard, one time in particular, about kids and raising kids.  I was telling him about my son, Trey, who was fifteen at the time and very sharp but not as committed to school as he could be.

Six months later, I saw Richard at a party and introduced him to my son.  Branson remembered who Trey was from our previous conversation, and I have this photograph of him, where he has this laser eye contact with my son (see picture at right), and he kept that laser eye contact with Trey for three or four minutes straight while he was talking to him. All these people were around, vying for Branson’s attention, but he was completely focused on my son during their conversation. Branson wasn’t intense in terms of his speaking—he was actually very relaxed—but he was impressively intense in his focus. The only person in that room, during that three or four-minute time span, was my son. Here’s a guy who never went to college, and he was telling my son. “Go to college. I spoke to your dad! You can do better. I have faith in you!”

Now, keep in mind, Trey doesn’t get impressed by anybody (or at least, like a typical teenager, he certainly doesn’t make a habit of showing that he’s impressed–if you have teenagers, I’m sure you’re more than used to being responded to with a shrug, a bored expression, and the words “it was okay,” or “yeah, (so and so) was cool, I guess . . .”   ;-)) .  Actually, I don’t think my son even understood who Branson was at the time of their conversation but I asked him afterward, “What did you think of that conversation?”  His very uncharacteristic response was, “That was amazing!”  I’m more than confident that what really did it for Trey, what really impressed him, was how, for those few minutes, he had Branson’s undivided attention.

I’ve had a chance to see Branson several times now, and he’s just a master at giving people his undivided attention. After his conversation with Trey, when he moved to the next person, the next conversation, he gave that person his undivided attention.

The thing is, giving people your undivided attention is one of the most important things you can do in order to become a master networker, and making a concentrated effort to maintain eye contact when engaging a conversation is imperative in order to demonstrate to somebody that they are receiving your undivided attention.

So, the next time you’re networking with someone and distractions surrounding you are tempting your eyes to stray from the person you’re speaking with, think of Richard Branson and remember to keep a laser focus on the person and conversation at hand–it’s one of the things that will make you a true master.

Do you have an interesting experience about networking and eye contact?  If so, share it here.

16 thoughts on “What Richard Branson Can Teach You about Networking

  1. This is excellent. I learned many years ago that the best way to remember someone’s name was to forget about yourself for that first meeting. This enables you to focus on the other person. Focus is the first step to a great memory.

  2. Eye contact is very inportant, and I struggle with it myself. It’s very easy to get “distracted” by other people in the room when you’re at a networking event. Seeing the picture of Mr. Branson talking to Trey with the other people around vying for his attention (especially that strange guy with the blue shirt) puts everything in perspective.
    Great post, Ivan!

    Shawn McCarthy BNI ED Ventura County, Ca.

  3. It’s amazing how these skills are not taught on a college campus. Focusing on others is one of the best ways to build trust and credibility. When it comes to letting someone know that you really want to know them, listening intentionally will give the other person the sense of respect they are yearning for.

    Great Post Ivan!

  4. Thank you for sharing this message about eye contact.

    I believe the same is true when one is speaking to audiences as well. When I am giving a keynote speech, I noticed that the people I have constant eye contact with the most during the speech, are the ones who stand in line after the speech to share then thoughts and feelings with me.

    Eye contact does work well with one on one conversations, and when speaking to audiences.

    Thanks again Dr. Misner.

  5. Great points all. It is frustrating and irritating to have people look at their blackberries or whatever while they are talking to you, or you are trying to talk to them. Having dealt with clients on a face-to-face basis for the past 30years is why we will be celeberating our 30th anniversary soon. I work by appointment so they get my undivided attention. Same with suppliers and sales people as they are taking time to come see me and I have to respect that. My travel industry respects Sir Richard Branson for all he has done for us all.

  6. Great article! My mentor was an excellent example of that skill and I love being on the receiving end of the attention, so it gets me excited to GIVE that focused attention even more, Thanks for the hightened awareness Ivan!

    @ Spencer My sign making friend, I agree with you that there is nothing more powerful than someone who is completely in the conversation to learn ALL about the other person!

    C. Spencer Reynolds

  7. the thing about eye contact and undivided attention is, that into a real conversation with a person. years before i even knew the word networking i began practicing this in my daily routine.
    try this: when you go shopping and you pay your stuff, try to get eye contact with the till girl. say “thank you” and smile. and when she says something like “wish you a pleasant day”, say something personal to her.
    every once in a while i get a response that creates a smile in me for the rest of the day.
    eye contact is about attention. and attention is respect. and giving respect is the most important thing between two people, et least when they don`t know each other.
    excellent story!
    merry x-mas to everyone
    magnus bueth
    bni berlin
    chapter leopard
    the response

  8. Great article! My mentor was an excellent example of that skill and I love being on the receiving end of the attention, so it gets me excited to GIVE that focused attention even more, Thanks for the hightened awareness Ivan! @ Spencer My sign making friend, I agree with you that there is nothing more powerful than someone who is completely in the conversation to learn ALL about the other person! C. Spencer Reynolds QuestioningSuccess

  9. Great post. Author Tim Sanders mentions in his book ‘Love is the Killer App’ that good networkers give away their knowledge, contacts and compassion. I think a 4th ‘give’ should be added to that list: ATTENTION.

  10. That’s something basic but many people have forgotten in this age of social networking where you don’t even get to meet for real the person at the other end of the line ( cable, dsl, broadband, etc. ). This advice makes perfect sense, even if you’re out on a casual, friendly date. Giving someone your undivided attention is a sign of respect and interest – where you can have a perfect stranger loosen up and be more open to what you have to say or suggest ( or even sell ). Thanks for sharing this wonderful insight!!

  11. Two stories. When I was ten, I was introduced to an army general who was a guest at our house. My limp wristed, look away attitude was “quickly” corrected by the general and to this day I ALWAYS grip firmly and look right into the eyes of the person. We had a visitor to our chapter recently who commented to me (in private) that one of our members had “wandering” eyes during their conversation…bad ju ju!

  12. One comment that I had about myself was the lack of keeping eye contact with other people. I’m glad I came across this article because it definitely shows that maintaining eye contact with someone shows them you are interested in them and what they are saying.

  13. Og Mandino wrote in “The Greatest Salesman” that the first of the practices to becoming great is to develop a habit of looking at everyone you meet and fix their eyes while thinking silently “I love you”. It has been many years since I as a bank teller practiced that and received a major salary increase because unknown customers were phoning in to praise my good service. I have read the little book many times and yet that is the one message apart from “never give up” that has burned into my memory.
    That is an amazing photograph of Richard Branson’s focus.
    It has created a memory flood of many lessons I have read and like all of these ideas you have read before but have stopped practising, I have renewed enthusiasm to start up the good habits again.
    Thank you Ivan for a valuable New Years message.

  14. Thank You.
    It is a great example and certainly something I could do with more practice with.
    “Relaxed and focussed” sounds good.
    How distracting it is when trying to listen to someone who has eyes darting all over the place and avoiding the focus on you !

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