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Episode 15: The Art of Networking—with Sapna Malhotra

Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to episode 15 of The Craft of Consulting podcast. I have a fantastic guest today. Sapna Malhotra is joining me from Canada, and she is going to talk about networking for consultants. Now, this is an absolutely essential skill for consultants, and I know there's some folks that love it, can't get enough of it and do it really, really well. And then there's the rest of us, where it's a little bit harder. We're not so comfortable doing it, some people kind of go into a full-on panic about it. But don't worry about it. She's going to talk about how to think about it, how to approach it, what to do, and then how to get out there and do it successfully. And she has a lot of experience in this. She brings two decades of international management consulting experience, everything from sales and business operations and technology, financial services, telecommunications. She started her career at Accenture and then eventually became a practice lead and now she's independent. She also teaches about how to do management consulting at George Brown College in Toronto. And she even wrote the book on networking, which is available on Amazon. It's Connect the Dots: How to Turn Strangers into Meaningful Network Relationships, and she's going to share some of that wisdom that she has learned over her decades of experience. And it's going to make it easier for you to do networking and networking is going to make it easier for you to build a really robust consulting business. So let's get started. All right, welcome to The craft of Consulting podcast. My guest today is Sapna Malhotra. Welcome to the podcast.

Sapna Malhotra: Thank you so much for having me and first of all, kudos to you because as a fellow podcaster, I know how much work it is and time and effort to put these episodes on, and so thank you so much for doing what you do.

Deb Zahn: My pleasure. And so you have a really interesting sort of multifaceted relationship with consulting, both consulting you've done and the help that you give to others. You want to describe that for my listeners?

Sapna Malhotra: Sure. So I've been an international management consultant for, oh my gosh, I'm going to say two decades that's really aging myself. And so I've been doing that for a lot of big, telco, tier-one type of clients for a long time. And now I've gone independent and now I'm teaching people how to be consultants. The college and stuff like that. Because these days everybody wants to be a consultant because they know that, you can get a bigger paycheck and it's credentials and everything else, but they don't realize how much work it is. Then how many sleepless nights we go through to, get it. So it looks like, flower on her fifth face. Like it looks so easy. Right? You know what I mean? So much work, you know, between stakeholdering and everything else. So I think people misunderstand that, we make it look easy because that's our job to make it feel flawless for our clients, but us going through the process of that level of due diligence, there's so many things that we need to do.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sapna Malhotra: So, yes.

Deb Zahn: And so many mistakes that can easily be made, especially when you're first starting out. I certainly made my full share.

Sapna Malhotra: Yeah. Oh, yes, but I was lucky because my partners at Accenture, they were brilliant when I started out. They really had high expectations and high level of quality. So always having to reach those bars really. They taught me a lot of stuff that has been able to go through my career in different areas. But it's amazing that if you don't have that mentorship or someone to guide you through those things, it's so easy to make. Like something that you think is such a small mistake, but from a client perspective is a massive mistake. And it puts question to judgment and to so many different areas.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And when you're starting, you're building your brand so you want to get it right. So today we thought we would talk about, networking, which is one of those essential things that all consultants need to do, but it terrifies or it's difficult for so many people, and you have some of the most thoughtful stuff that I've seen about how to do it, and sort of the tactical perspective of it. So we thought we would dive into that today because, everybody needs to know and everybody, most people I know, even if they're massive extroverts have a little trepidation about it. So let's start off with, define networking. So what is that?

Sapna Malhotra: Well, it's got such a bad negative connotation to it because it just sounds like work really at the end of the day. But it is a life skill that we need to, how I always describe networking to people is just that, a mechanism to meet more interesting people. And once we start looking at it from that perspective, I feel like a lot of our...we all started getting that sigh of relief and get more energized and it's less stressful, it's not so much about closing a sale or doing this, it's about who's interesting and who would I like to build a relationship with? Because the other thing is, especially in this day and age, people think that, networking is like Netflix, I need somebody and then when I need something I'm going to contact them. Meanwhile I'm like, I don't remember you from five months ago or two, three weeks ago and why would I give you anything because my time is so valuable. Like that's great that you're asking, but why do I need to satisfy it? And people forget that networking is just a tool to start a conversation, but you still have to go through the phases of getting people to know you, like you, and eventually trust you. Because people do business with people they like and they trust not just any random thing. So that's why, reviews, well we're looking at vendors and things, people, those things matter, right? Because they want to know what other people are saying before they start to kind of engage with you.

Deb Zahn: That's right, and so for consultants, particularly new consultants, say a little bit about why you encourage them as one of their first skills to learn how to do this. Because what does it do for them?

Sapna Malhotra: Tons. So first things, especially for consultants, this is not just like a life skill. This is your business skill, because, first of all, even with your clients, when you say you've got amazing clients, all of their stakeholders, you're going to have to build relationships with them. So going out to a networking event, just to test out how you sound, how you resonate, is a really great, safe place to try and do all those errors out there, as opposed to with your clients where you start mumbling or bumbling like a fool and they're like, what? I'm trusting you with this many millions of dollars to do X, Y, and Z and you're not going to be able to give me the words to actually give it to my bosses, or I can't get you to present on behalf of me. It's an extension of their brand, right? That's what you are.

So it's really important that you get out there, even if you are so scared and nervous. It's just to take the time just to find out, how can you make that small talk not feel so small and make them feel like the most important person in the room.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sapna Malhotra: And by the way, I always keep saying that we always think networking is only for extroverts, but actually it's, if the introverts have a much better advantage than the rest of us extroverts do, you know? And it's really impressive and people don't realize of power that they have.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Well, as an introvert I just had to do a lot of networking. I mean it's this funny thing where I'm an introvert, but I sort of have an extrovert's job. You're right. We do have an advantage because we're often picking up on nonverbal subtle cues that folks are giving off. And if you can sort of harnessed that energy, it can actually help you with networking. What do you say to those folks who have that network fear, that allergy to networking? What do you do to try and propel them towards just getting out there and doing it?

Sapna Malhotra: One, find a topic that you're interested in, in terms of, don't go to any networking event. Pick something that you're mildly interested in meeting some of those people. Two just like even dating, bring a wing person.

Deb Zahn: I love that.

Sapna Malhotra: And debrief them a little bit. So you'll be like, “Hey, Deborah, why don't you come with me? And you could be, I'm looking to meet somebody that can help me in the financial services career area, be a mentor. Here's some things, if I forget to toot my horn, you highlight these things for me.” And your wing person can actually help, “Oh, she's so humble!” Right? So you could actually take that and use that to your advantage, but I always say, don't go with a group of four and five people and then you stand with each other, do the catch up, which you should be doing over drinks and then cause no one's going to come to a large group of people already intimidating, right?

Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right. I love the wing man idea. I've actually been that where I was just recently at a firm and then, and now independent, and people would come to our annual retreat and I'd say stick by my side. I'll go around, I'll introduce you to folks. And exactly right. They would get, be too humble, they wouldn't know how to, and I would coach them in between, but I would say, oh my God, you have no idea what this person did. And it was really helpful. That's great.

Sapna Malhotra: It totally does. It's so easy. And as you know, and it's your friends, a safe space and you know what, you can pay it forward, right? Then you could do it for them, cause they're not going to be able to, and then you get to play a couple of different roles, different hats, and you'll get more and more comfortable as time goes. And the other thing is, how someone describes you that's a really good close friend, you may not see that value but yourself, and it will create another one of those warm, fuzzy moments, right? I always find that fascinating when someone says something that, she's so inspirational in X, Y, and Zed way and I'm like, really? I am? And you know-

Deb Zahn: I love that. Now you've already said a little bit about the mindset that you have to have going into networking, but expand on that a little bit because I've read some of your things and I really like the way you look at how to get your head right and your heart right, so that you can do it with a little more comfort and ease.

Sapna Malhotra: Mindset is such a huge thing to everything. Like here's the truth of the matter: we're always going to be scared of things we've never done before. And I actually had a really amazing podcast guest. Her name was Ariel Garton, and she's a neuroscientist. And, by the way, she's just brilliant because she's got this headband that teaches you how to meditate. So she's all about the brain. And we did this really great episode about how to kind of kill the inner jerk in your head, the one that's always the naysayer. And she goes through such tactical tips and she says, if this was your person that's in your brain, that is saying all these negative things about your best friend or your sister or your mom, how would you react? And it's funny when you start thinking about all the negative things we say, all that doubt we say about ourselves, and we actually pretend it's another person that's saying it to our...somebody close to us. We become like Mama Bear. Right? We become protective. That's not true. And that's, and it's funny, right? So that's how you kill that inner critic in you. Because, here's the truth of the matter, wherever you go, someone else is going to have just as much anxiety or even more than you. So if you're just going in and as a coaching perspective, and tried to make them feel a little bit more comfortable, even though you're feeling less comfortable, you're automatically going to connect with them because you're hitting them with an emotional response and you're actually making it a little more safer for you because you're helping someone. You're not helping you, you're helping someone else.

Deb Zahn: Right. And what is at the heart? I know you talk a lot about what's at the heart of networking, that's different than what you mentioned earlier which is that, transactional opportunistic way that, I think people think of it and we've seen people do that, so what do you think is really at the heart of it?

Sapna Malhotra: I don't know people are just, they want immediate results, right? We all about immediate satisfaction. And here's the joke I always say like, whenever I go to a networking event, I don't look to buy. So why are people pitching me to sell all the time? And it always throws me in for a loop. Right? Because none of us are ever there to buy something. And yet everyone goes in with their elevator pitches because that's what they've been schooled in. And they go in for the sale and the kill and everything else.

What they forgot to do is just tell them why people, why they should be interested in you, and they don't know how to introduce themselves. And when someone asks the question of what do you do, boom! That's the bigger problem, right? They start rhyming off their CV as if the person would possibly understand. It only takes them 5 to 7 seconds to make an impression on someone. Tell me your entire CV and my eyes have lost over.

Deb Zahn: And if I'm an introvert I'll see their feet shuffling and them sort of looking to the side like how the heck do I get out of this conversation?

Sapna Malhotra: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: So how would you suggest people approach it instead? Because that's often, the tricky part is particularly at a networking event where you're going in with a whole bunch of strangers. Hopefully you brought your wing person with you, but how do you, like there's that awkward hovering thing that people do when they're trying to get in a conversation, what do you do instead of that?

Sapna Malhotra: So whenever someone says, you know, hey, my name is so and so, and then they go, what do you do? Or whatever it is. I always go, “Well, I'm a management consultant or Chandler of my friends. I'm a Podcaster. I'm an author and I'm obsessed with Gordon Ramsey. And then I pause, and people underestimate the value of a good pause. And it allows them to digest what you just said and two, because it was so short, interesting, indifferent, they go huh! And they always seem to pick up the one thing, it's funny, they asked me about my obsession with Gordon Ramsey.

Deb Zahn: Of course, they do.

Sapna Malhotra: Why? Is the way he speaks? He's awful on TV, or is it because he knows how to elevate dishes and he brings out the…what is it?

Deb Zahn: Yeah yeah yeah.

Sapna Malhotra: Is he a great marketing genius? It doesn't matter, the conversation now has been stimulated. And so then I'll tell them about why and then they'll tell me why they find it so weird. And then they'll ask me other questions. So what is your, what book did you write or what? They've remembered everything I've said, but I've given them an opening and a little glimpse about something about me that's not business-related. That they can actually connect with.

Deb Zahn: I love that. It actually reminds me years and years ago, I was a food server at a restaurant and I used to, just because I thought it was hilarious, couples…we were at a brunch place, so people and I know brunch is your favorite meal. So we would get couples coming in on their first date and it was horribly awkward and it's like intensive networking. And I had index cards of questions they could ask each other to break up the monotony. But I love that ideas throw something that's a little more interesting than, some dry CV and hook people in. Because I think it's that hook that's not just gets them interested in you, but also relaxes them. Because now if I don't know or understand what you do, if I don't know or understand everything else, I know who that guy is. And I'm going to ask you about him.

Sapna Malhotra: It's so easy and it's crazy. So I got this coaching and advice from, this woman named Tricia Brooks. She runs a speaker salon and she actually helps people get on stages and like TedX and all those different things. So she's a big deal and she's a film producer and everything else. So I actually interviewed her for the book to find out a little bit more, like how do you catch an audience attention, in the first five seconds. And she's the one that actually coached me about making it so short and sweet and simple and always have that little glimmer about who you are because people want to connect authentically with people.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sapna Malhotra: It's not just buzz industry words, which consultants are so guilty of.

Deb Zahn: Oh, goodness gracious.

Sapna Malhotra: Right? We could play the consultant bingo anytime and not really have a conversation because we just use those words so easily that we forget that the other person that they don't understand that. So she really helped me really reframe this a little bit more and more.

Deb Zahn: That's great. Yeah. And even flipping things. So, one of the things that I say is introduction because saying that I'm a facilitator is like “Wah, Wah.” That's boring to anybody who's not a facilitator. If they're a facilitator like we're in, we're going to talk about it forever because we're nerds and we like it. But for most other people, who cares? They don't even know what that means. So I've switched it up in what I now say is I cure decision-making disorders.

Sapna Malhotra: Oh, that is sexy. I love that.

Deb Zahn: It slays.

Sapna Malhotra: Yeah, totally!

Deb Zahn: But then everybody knows somebody, whether it's themselves or clients or colleagues, who have a hard time making decisions and now we can get into a conversation.

Sapna Malhotra: Totally. And not something else. We always go on about what we do as our title. We don't actually describe it as the value or the outcome that we provide. Right. And that's the other thing, right? They'll say, I'm a marketing consultant. Right? What does that even mean?

Deb Zahn: Yeah, exactly.

Sapna Malhotra: I actually help my clients bring 10x on the returns. Well, how do you do that? Right? That's a very different thing because now you're telling me what the outcome and the value that you can provide to me.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sapna Malhotra: In a short, simple way, that doesn't sound really be overly rehearsed or something you just read out of a textbook.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And it's good practice for when you're then talking to potential clients as well.

Sapna Malhotra: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: That's fabulous. So they get into, they'll say they got their hook. Their opening is gorgeous. Now what? So now they're in conversations. What do you encourage folks to do when they're in the midst of networking?

Sapna Malhotra: So one, get curious about the other person. Always get curious about the other person. Don't think about what it is that you want from them. Find out about them. And this is really important. Just like, again, it goes back to you dealing with your clients. You actually have to understand what the needs and the wants are but you got to ask those probing questions. So you ask different things. So I would ask about facilitators, like how hard is it? What's the biggest size of room? And how it must be really challenging when you have different types of audiences. Is it?

Sapna Malhotra: Really get to get a little curious about what they do and what's the value they provide. People love talking about themselves. So this is where I say that introverts really have the upper hand because you've got deep listening skills.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Sapna Malhotra: That other people just don't have. People are just on the go. On the go like, OK, you said this, this, this. I think I know what you mean. But you actually being a little bit curious about the individual, asking a couple of probing questions. They'll start talking on their own, and then you could barely say anything else and they will remember that you were the best person that they chatted with the entire event. Meanwhile, you only said 5 words. But you get remembered as the greatest conversationalist because you were actively listening. You actually were interested in what they said and your body language also showed that.

Deb Zahn: That's right and that gets rid of that opportunistic flavor that often it can take. So, how do you then, if you, let's say you go to a networking event, there's lots of other ways that folks can network too. I think one of the struggles that people often have is, now there's all this follow up and now that feels like my to do list just got exponentially larger. What do you tell folks that sort of have that worry?

Sapna Malhotra: It does. If you've done good networking, you should have some next steps. Like you always want to follow up with something because you want to have that continuation of a conversation, right? It was initial introduction. Now you're trying to build a relationship. Now I always take breaks, in between events, like I am either writing on my phone about some small things like, so-and-so is about to a take her trip to Croatia in June and, with their five kids or whatever it is. So the next time I, hey, how was your trip? And I don't want to remember things like, here's the other piece, I can't remember what I had for breakfast two days ago.

Deb Zahn: Exactly.

Sapna Malhotra: I can never remember. So I take notes like even on the back of the business card or sometimes I'll go to the coffee bar if there's an area and just kind of quickly write down some things so I can remember what it is that I kind of promised them. If there was an article that I found that they might be interested in and so on and what my next steps are. Because just like anything in any meeting that you have with the stakeholders, there should be some action I am seeking to continue moving the conversation forward. I mean that's how you pose sales proposal, right? It's not that you have everything in their court. You have to keep stimulating it. So I always take lots of notes, and I always follow up within 24 hours of that conversation because again, I don't remember what I had for breakfast two days ago. Guess what? They're not going to remember what we talked about either.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sapna Malhotra: They're not going to have the context, the situation, some flavor of things and people appreciate a good follow up from the summary of your notes. Like, hey, we know we chatted. Here's the article I promised you. And they love that. And then you connect with LinkedIn and it continues from there. But they remember that.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I think that duration is critical too because ultimately if you did it well, people had an emotional response to you and you want them, so this is not dating, this is not the 3-day nonsense rule. This is you actually want to then follow up while there is still some half-life to that emotion that you helped generate. And if you wait too long, that's gone. They might remember you, but why is it in their interest to get back to you?

Sapna Malhotra: And it's huge. Because the other thing was…this one example. I actually had follow up with this guy. He's a VC venture capitalist in the cannabis industry and he's brilliant. And so we were decided to meet up for a drink after work one night, and he actually brought two of us, his other friends in the VC world, and I was able to actually connect with my client that was in a specific industry with them. And again, it was just because we're like, oh my God, they were so easy to talk to you. You're so entertaining. I'm looking forward to it. And the automatically brought me into their circle of trust with their friends.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Sapna Malhotra: And it just, again, it just grows organically like that.

Deb Zahn: Now, let me ask this because this happens to me a lot. So I mean, I find people endlessly fascinating. So even though I'm an introvert, I enjoy meeting new folks because I love, this is why I love podcasting. I love to hear how people think about things. But sometimes when people follow up with me, the task that they want me to do is high burden and I want to help them. I have an emotional response to them. I want to say yes, but I'm looking at my to do list and I'm thinking, yeah, I'm going to do that and then etch a sketch, it's gone and I forget to do it. What are some tricks that if you're going to follow up with someone and you actually are, now that you've developed more of a relationship, now you're going to make a request. How do you do that in a way that makes it easy for them?

Sapna Malhotra: So one is you have to remember, you have to always have to provide value. Here's the truth of the matter. If something is really important, I will move things on my priority list to help them because they've actually demonstrated how it's going to help me down the road. Right? So then my brain, I’m thinking ROI. This is going to help me move forward. So it's helping them visualize whatever it is that they're looking at. Like today I keep getting this email from this girl. And she keeps sending me emails. Again, I have no clue who she is, we've never actually met but the emails that she's sending, it's so personal to me as if I actually have met her. So I keep opening the email and just they go like, I know you must be really busy, can't have time to talk.

But again I have zero clue of anything that, if where have we ever possibly met, or if this is just a spam email and they managed to get my email address? Regardless of either way I have no idea. She wants to talk to me about something but she hasn't demonstrated any value. It just throws me for a loop, I actually know like another client, they were trying to start off their accounting business and they had no clients at all. They're starting from zero. So what they did was they emailed a couple of people said, listen, if you send me your tax returns in the past three years, I'll sign a NDA, I'll help you find ways you can leverage. I've found some ways to save money. Right?

Deb Zahn: Love it.

Sapna Malhotra: What do you think? Her business blew up overnight, there was no risk, extra money that they didn't know what the tax credits and so on? She demonstrated value like there was no tomorrow. It just grew overnight. They had the eyes in the back of their head. They had no clue.

Sapna Malhotra: This Guy Greg told me my emails were going to spam or whatever it is. He called me up to tell me. He didn't have to. I'm not at any of his, suppliers or vendors or anything, but I have so much appreciated it that when I was at a board meeting, someone said, Oh, I'm looking to get my website optimized or whatever it is. I'm like you should use this guy, Greg. And because he provided value to me when I didn't ask for anything. In the eyes in the back of my head, I'm like, oh my gosh, he's got my back. He's going to be that person that, and I was able to refer him to a couple of people.

Sapna Malhotra: Again, like it took him no time. It's just a simple, quick, hey, heads up.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Sapna Malhotra: Just like her. She had nothing to lose by sending those emails. She was going to invest that time in consultancy. That's pre-sales. That's business development time that you were going to do anyways. You probably already have a framework or some software that can run things so it's not going to go and take so much time because you already have a process to do it, to do that discovery. Now you have a different thing to have a conversation about it.

Deb Zahn: That's great, and I love that because people are biologically drawn to reciprocity. But in order for reciprocity to happen you have to show up with that first thing and if somebody has done something of value to me, you're right. Suddenly my bad short-term memory like cures a little bit, and I will remember to hook them up because, you know what? You helped me out. I'm going to help you out. And that's not, the basis of all relationships, but it certainly makes action easier.

Sapna Malhotra: Totally. Like this guy and there's another guy, Jay, he sent me an email on LinkedIn and just said I really enjoy your podcast. And I was like, Oh, I love getting that. We get a lot of work in so when you get that kind of email you're like, oh my gosh, what did you like? And so I was like, thank you so much. And it was great. And then I next to that I see I get a review on iTunes and it's this same person's name. And I'm like, oh, didn't I get a message from that a couple of days ago? So I looked at it, I'm like oh yeah that's the same guy. So I thanked him for the iTunes review and so on. But now I'm curious about this person, right? I start looking at his profile. I find that he's got this amazing business that he's a founder of, and he's doing great things. I started reading about the business so I invite him to be on that podcast.

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Sapna Malhotra: Because he provided value. I didn't ask. He just showed I need…We always like ratings and reviews and it's extension of our brand, and it's amazing and he's been a brilliant support of every little thing that we do. Again, what a great way to get someone's attention, right?

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I liked that a lot. I also like it. I actually have a template available on my website for this which is, if somebody is asking me to send out some networking emails for them, so I'm impressed with them, I'm willing to lend my brand to them and my credibility with other folks. And I want to do it, but don't make me write the email. Don't make me put in a whole bunch of extra work to do it. Don't make me figure out how to get your attachments on my email. Make it super easy, super low burden. Write it for me. I'll add a little flair to it because that doesn't take too long. But make it super easy for me to do it. And if you do things like that, you're going to get a higher hit rate.

Sapna Malhotra: Totally. Just like someone saw, there was a job posting that I was, whatever, podcasts episodes had. They emailed me and said, can you send my CV? OK, first I don't know you. OK but let's put that part aside. All you did was send me a CV. You didn't put in, take the two seconds to writing a couple of bullets as to why you are great for this role. For me to go, hey guys, I don't know this person, but it looks like they're really interested. Here's a CV. I would afford it, but I have nothing to say. And the second thing is I'm not going to burn my relationships, all of these executives by sending them spam emails. Right? I have to provide value to them. So you know, again, I would actually look at the job, but like does it make sense and do that due diligence? Because again, people don't realize that we think about our relationship's not a one stop shop. It's always going to be that we have to think about what are we providing value to our own things. Are we adding anything or are we just creating noise? Because if we keep creating noise to these executives, they're going ignore me.

Deb Zahn: I've sent, I've made the mistake before and I'm sure you know, lots of consultants have where I've sent someone to one of my clients, and it was a bomb. And I was able, because we had had a long-term relationship to say, “I'm so sorry I did it.” And do what I need to do to mend that. But I'm suddenly in a situation where I have to mend it because I allowed someone to borrow a chunk of my brand and I took a hit for it.

Sapna Malhotra: And it's so hard because first time you can get a get-out-of-jail-free card. Well, next time you send out people there going to be a little apprehensive just because they're going to remember the last experience you just had. So then you're going to have to do all this other additional stuff just to make sure it doesn't go that way. It's so hard, people don't realize that we don't want to burn all of our capital or relationship capital on one hit like that. We take our relationships very seriously.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And relationships are primary. Always.

Sapna Malhotra: Always, and referrals. It's amazing. I got a call on Friday. It wasn't my client. It was a client's client that said "I know this is not something you're interested in. I know this is way beneath your level or whatever it is, but you're the only person I trust. Can you please help us out with this?" I'm like, OK, totally because again, it's referral business, right? Thank goodness I demonstrate all those things and then hear what they said? It's not something that you do, but I know you could do it, but I trust you to figure it out and give me what I really, really need.

Deb Zahn: That's right. I've had so many of those conversations and it's always expanded my business. So what are some of the other common mistakes that you see in networking?

Sapna Malhotra: People go to conferences to actually learn something, and I always think that's kind of really interesting because, what I find fascinating is that all conference speakers, actually have all their thought leadership somewhere on the website, on their website or on YouTube. They're not giving this pre-thought leadership, they're doing it to increase their brand and exposure.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sapna Malhotra: So if you're not, if you now take away the idea that I'm not going to miss anything by missing that conversation, now you can focus on the conference and but who do you want to meet and what it is. And really good conferences would actually publish not just a list of all the speakers that are going to be there, but oftentimes they publish the list of people that are attending in there. So people don't take the time to do that research beforehand of who they want to meet. So a couple of things. I wanted to get some, there were some pretty big executives I wanted to meet that were attending because I wanted to see their people speak. So I actually started liking some of their content and they happen to be Twitter people as opposed to LinkedIn or whatever. Once in a while I would like tweet. And then sometimes I would retweet something. And again, when people retweet, they actually kind of go, oh wow! They found value in that. Right? That's so awesome.

Deb Zahn: I love it when people retweet. It's like it's a dopamine hit for me.

Sapna Malhotra: I know I always get so excited like, oh my gosh, what did they find valuable? I think that's so huge when someone shares your content and then sometimes you know if it, depending on the time, if I find something I'll be like, oh my God, I saw this article. I thought you would totally enjoy it. And it's kind of, it'd be like, Oh yeah, great. And they might retweet it and we might have a conversation about whatever it was, but by the time I'm like, hey, it looks like we're both at the same conference. I've done a warmup so when I need them, I find time to meet them, we already have something established so it's not cold and we just hit the ball running and they've done research on me as to what it is, what do you do and all that stuff. We just don't take enough time to actually prepare ourselves for what it is that we really want to get out of the conference.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And then to look online even to know what someone looks like-

Sapna Malhotra: Totally.

Deb Zahn: And their Facebook, and the things that they put on LinkedIn and the things that they're interested in because not only does that make it easier when I'm having a conversation with them, it makes me more interested in them. And that authenticity of my interest in them is apparent when I finally talk to them because then it's not like, it's not stalky. I'm just being opportunistic. But I actually watched a video of them and I'm like wow! I love how that person thinks about this, and I want to meet them because of it.

Sapna Malhotra: Yeah. And even the people, the speakers on stage, they always come and you can ask them Q and A. I tend to go make sure I take a quick picture say, can I get your business card or whatever because I found this really valuable but I don't want to take too much of your time. You just go off stage and there's a huge lineup. They actually find that, they appreciate that more than ever. Then I take the picture that I did, retweet it or share it and I say, hey you know I found this so valuable. I think extending the brand, reminding them who I am. Right? Guess what? I get that coffee every time. Right?

Deb Zahn: Because you just gave them value because you knew why. Most people don't get on a stage for just any odd reason. They're on there for a purpose and you're right, it usually at least, one of those purposes is to extend their brand and you just helped them do it.

Sapna Malhotra: Totally.

Deb Zahn: So value, value, value. What are a couple of other common mistakes that you see that you would smack someone's hand if you saw them do it?

Sapna Malhotra: One, here's a huge one. Is that not being dressed appropriately.

Deb Zahn: Oh, God yes.

Sapna Malhotra: I know right?

Deb Zahn: I'm laughing cause it's painful.

Sapna Malhotra: It's so awful. And it's amazing to me that how many people don't take the attention. Now, if you're going on a date, and I actually in the book, I actually interviewed a celebrity matchmaker going, because you only have 5 to 7 minutes, 5 to 7 seconds to make a first impression. I asked her what some of the common mistakes were. It's the same thing, the dress code.

And it's like, you see people that have, not just like not ironed shirts, you've got holes in jeans or something else. But the energy that you provide on top of that, like I see so many women, they've got their handbags, their phone, papers, the hair's a little bit of mess and you can just see them walking super fast. And I'm like, oh my gosh, I get anxiety. Just I don't want to approach you.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Sapna Malhotra: Because I know you're a hot mess, and you've got way too many things on the go and it's just too much. So that energy, right? So I find that we don't think enough about that, about what we're actually, how people are going to project and perceive us. Because again, anyone that we meet or potentially meet, we could be being introduced to their friends or contacts or network. And when you're looking at someone, you're thinking, could I introduce them to someone? They may be the most brilliant person but-

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sapna Malhotra: Would I be proud to introduce them to my social or network circles? And we forget about, right? What is the experience we want to leave people with? It's, I know it sounds so silly, but it's basic common sense stuff. We're just too busy to think about those things or input in a mint. Let's just have a mint, like small things like that.

Deb Zahn: That's right, because you don't want somebody to suggest you to someone else and have to issue some disclaimer so that they're not surprised because you're not dressing appropriate for whatever your field is. And there's differences but, yeah, no, I totally get that. So you have a book, you also have fantastic tools that help people understand networking and help them figure out how to do it comfortably and well. So what was your inspiration behind creating that book?

Sapna Malhotra: So I started teaching at a college out here part time as a professor teaching them consulting 101, intro to management consulting. And they're not students in the sense of 18 year olds. They're actually adults from the ages of like 25 to 50 years old. And it's so interesting because when you are not talking to consultants and teaching them to be consultants you really get surprised about what surprises them, because, there's so much of our DNA is so natural that we don't think twice about it, but we forget that we got schooled in it or we've learned through our experience in things. So the areas that they were struggling with was networking. Every class they would come in and ask me questions about networking. I've got a bunch of business cards now what do I do? If you don't know that answer, you didn't have a meaningful conversation. Toss it. Right? It's not like you get one and you get one like it's Oprah Winfrey Show. You shouldn't be collecting business cards just like collecting friends. It doesn't work that way. Yeah, you only need two good business cards for something meaningful to happen. It's not about having the volume, not a popularity contest. So each class something would happen, or they'll be like, OK, I have an accent and I don't feel comfortable about it. And I'm like, OK, let's talk about that because these are real fears and concerns and they're valid. So with every class that would happen over the entire semester would be about networking, so the book wrote itself.

Deb Zahn: That's great.

Sapna Malhotra: So, and I dedicated it to those students because it really challenged me to think about a couple of things. I'm really close to my nieces and my nephew. I am like seriously crazy about them, and I keep thinking if this generation is already struggling with that human connection in really being able to network, and that's what networking is. It's really about connections. I used the actual technical terminology of networks, about computers in creating that ecosystem, so that's why I say you don't need it just for work, you need it for friends, inspiration. We all need more interesting people in our lives to keep us inspired. So I kept thinking, if this generation is struggling with this, what hope do my nieces and nephew have?

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sapna Malhotra: Because it seems like it's an art that's dying and you could see it in job postings because all of a sudden job postings now have customer success management. In my world and my day and age, again I'm two decades in management consultancy. Customers are always in the heart of it. Relationships are always in the heart of everything. And now that the fact they got to put those words in there to remind the actual employees of what they're supposed to be focusing on, it just tells you that that piece is missing.

Deb Zahn: That's a cry for help.

Sapna Malhotra: It is a cry for help.

Deb Zahn: So the book is called Connect The Dots. I will have, which I think your niece came up with, right?

Sapna Malhotra: Yeah. My niece came up with the name cause she's nine years old, an avid crazy reader like Lord of The Rings. I mean I can't even read that. And she was asking about what the book was about and then she said, oh it's kind of like connect the dots. And yes, that's where the birth of the name of the book came. So Connect the Dots: How to Turn Strangers into Meaningful Network Relationships.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. And I will have a link to that on the podcast page. So definitely go check that out. And you have great tools that go with it. I went through one of them yesterday and was just really impressed with it. So let me actually switch topics real quick as I always ask all of my podcast guests this question which is, life balance is essential and a lot of times consultants talk about it they are like, OK, well that's not possible and I actually think it is and I've done a lot of work to bring it to my life. So how do you bring balance to your life with all of these other things that you're doing?

Sapna Malhotra: You know what it is, I've taken the word balance and changed it. I now have work-life integration.

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Sapna Malhotra: Because there are times I'm going to work at night, but that's OK. It's not about 9 to 5. It's about when I feel most passionate about or more inspired to do something. And then during the day, sometimes I'll take off a couple of hours because I want to go hang out with my nieces because that's important to me. So I actually have now decided to call things work-life integration about, well, how do I make all those things happen that are really important and fit it into those different hours? That makes sense to me.

Deb Zahn: I love that. I love that. Especially because one of the reasons that we, people often become consultants is they want, more flexibility. And I worked at a firm, it wasn't one of the big five but they gave us a lot of autonomy and flexibility. So yeah, if I wanted to get something done on a Sunday because there's something cool I want to do or some family event on a Friday, I get to do that. And the problem I often see is a lot of consultants don't take advantage of whatever flexibility that is actually afforded to them. So they fill their Friday, they fill their Sunday, they fill everything, and they haven't stopped and thought about, well what's actually important to me?

Sapna Malhotra: Yeah. And when you don't get moments to breathe for yourself. That's the worst, right? You're not going to do a great service for your clients because you're going to miss something because you're doing it so fast and it's going to hurt, and there's a difference. I made a joke about my mom and my dad about, they make the same recipe and, but my dad’s food is exceptionally more delicious. And it's because my mom has mastered the recipe for sure, but she cooks because she has a time crunch. There’s so much stuff going on. And my dad does it because of love.

Deb Zahn: Oh, nice.

Sapna Malhotra: So you could always taste the difference. Even in client deliverables. You can taste the difference when someone's rushing for time, versus someone that put the right effort and energy and passion into something because they were naturally curious about it. The deliverables are lately different outputs.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Because we want to show up for our clients 100% and not just have them be another notch on our to do list.

Sapna Malhotra: Yeah, exactly.

Deb Zahn: I love that. Well, this has been absolutely wonderful. I love talking about networking because again, it strikes fear in the hearts of so many and it doesn't need to. It doesn't need to. It can actually become one of your superpowers, and you have a lot of great stuff that will help people do that. So thank you so much for being on the show.

Sapna Malhotra: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it. This is one of my favorite topics. Consulting…there's so much stuff we can talk about. It's fun.

Deb Zahn: And we should again because this was wonderful. So everybody take a look at the show notes and that's where I'll have links to all the great stuff that you can seek out and learn how to do this.

Sapna Malhotra: Thank you again.

Deb Zahn: Well thanks for listening to episode 15 of The Craft of Consulting podcast. I'm definitely going to have a lot of other great guests coming up, so please hit subscribe so you don't miss anything. And as always you can go to I have a whole lot of new information up there that can help you in your consulting journey and help you be successful faster. So I will talk with you next time. Thanks so much. Bye Bye.

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