Struck by a great idea—Networking Mad Libs!

Happily, a stroke of genius at almost the 11th hour!

I don’t know about your experience of late—meaning during the pandemic—but I can tell you that I’m experiencing projects with colleagues that are coming together, very often, at the last minute… For someone who loves the slight pressure of a deadline, that feels okay—until it doesn’t. I got dangerously close to the latter situation this week.

A recent example was my offering to deliver an activity for the networking portion of the ATD-NYC Holiday Party. I really like connecting with people—listening to them describe the essence of their work-selves, discovering their backgrounds, current positions, and needs. The mental exercise of combing through my universe of colleagues to determine if I know someone who can be a resource to the person right in front of me is such fun!

As time was very limited for the preparation and in the event, I didn’t have the luxury of listening to, really learning about what people understood  about networking. My prep for the event included standing on the foundation of previous sessions developed over the years for a variety of audiences.

I imagined that people’s experiences with networking were all over the map:

  • some were new to it
  • a few like it
  • others have a love-hate relationship to it, seeing the benefit yet engaging reluctantly
  • plenty loathe it…

So I made my best assumptions and believed that I could create a jovial time of everyone getting to know a few folks in the Zoom breakout rooms.


I decided to create a simple template for folks to lead them through key information to share quickly and easily—a simple mindmap… and then completed an example. When I looked at my colorful and simply organized visual the next day, I realized that some folks would love it, as I did, (being that “global”/big picture thinker who likes to see all the information at once) and yet others might be put off by the lack of linear structure to collecting and sharing the information.

So, true to form (my Character Strength of Creativity* showing up, as usual, when I was walking Gus/the beloved dog) I was struck with the idea of creating Networking Mad Libs (NML)! A quick, easy way for folks to share key information:

  • Who they are/their background
  • What their position is/Where they work
  • What they love about their work
  • What expertise they have to offer colleagues
  • What they are seeking, in order to grow as professionals

The NML flowed onto the page, though it lacked a bit of the fun possibilities of the original Mad Libs (adjective here, noun there) and yet I was delighted! Then, because who can stop when having fun (I’m finding that more true now during the pandemic), I created a hybrid version of the NMLs too—an example with words, icons, and figures! I completed that task in a jiffy and filled it in for myself as an example.








Because I love to nurture collaboration and seeing people’s contributions, I headed over Miro to create a board to give me the opportunity to post the  instructions for the participants, and a place to share the templates they would develop. More fun!

As we know with both tech and meetings, engagement is some combination of folks who:

  • don’t realize there’s prework and don’t do it
  • like and will make time to do the prework
  • like and don’t have time for prework
  • don’t like prework and don’t do it
  • don’t like it and will do it

And then there’s the tech piece, there are folks who:

  • love to play with new tech
  • don’t like to play with tech
  • have the time and inclination to learn something new and do it
  • don’t have the time and interest and don’t do it
  • haven’t looked at their email and don’t even know about it

To be realistic, most folks also need plenty of time to get comfortable with new tasks and especially new tech… this part of the event came together with very little time to enjoy all the aspects of the experience, yet happily, many folks dove into the prework and experienced some of the capabilities of Miro.

What I also learned yesterday is that as a solopreneur of over 20 years, and coming from a history with Business Networking International (the home of the one-minute introduction and “ask”) networking introductions have become, through work and practice, almost second nature to me. I discovered that it was new and challenging for some folks to state clearly and specifically, what they had to offer colleagues and what they needed. Such fuzziness leads to the opportunity to ask questions and have great conversations. When there’s time for that, that’s awesome. In this case, folks needed to be laser-like in their three minutes of having the floor. I left with the crystal clear realization that if I can understand, very specifically, what you need, then I can easily be of service.

I came away with a clear sense that

  • networking is an area of interest and of great value
  • there’s an opportunity to support people in developing these skills
  • a true training with plenty of practice would serve everyone
  • and the NMLs were a great start!

You know that I’ll be suggesting all of the above!

Enabling Folks to See What They Haven’t Yet Imagined…

The Setting: Meeting this Week

Earlier in the week, I bumped up against some folks’ inability to envision something that was outside of their experience…  And, their subsequent thoughts that it couldn’t be done. I had hoped for their considering the opportunity with curiosity and possibility.

What do you do when you are suddenly, and surprisingly, faced with folks who are not (hopefully, not yet) on the same page as you?

It took me about half a minute to tap into my strength of creativity and swing into a different frame of mind.

I understand that if people aren’t able to envision something because it’s unfamiliar or outside their experience, they often shut down and say “No.” Realizing this reality, I made every effort to approach their questions with enthusiasm.  I needed to create a context in which they could begin to understand the thing that they didn’t know… I started to share stories of how creating a visualizing exercise for a group of almost 100 participants over Zoom had been achieved with a variety of groups to great success.

What’s your approach to introducing new and different ideas to people? How do you help people step into understanding the experience that you have had and what you can provide? How do you prepare to create a context for people and plan to meet their needs, doubts, and questions? What kinds of evidence are you sharing—is it both thinking- and feeling-oriented?

I have to say I was surprised by people’s reactions. And, I felt the pressure of the time allocated to the conversation weighing on me. If time had permitted it would have been so much more fun and engaging to demonstrate the experience by having them engage in the activity I was suggesting, and then discuss how I scale it to larger groups.

Suffice to say that the information I provided, the real world and congruent examples, and my passion and history with the group enabled us to move forward with the initiative. This is a lesson that I don’t usually have to learn and yet it’s a good reminder:  when called, or moved, to step up and share a new idea, to be ready to be open, understanding, and able to take others’ perspectives to enable them to envision, and truly understand, your idea, concept or practice.

I realize that to enable people to grasp something new and different does not always lead to acceptance of the idea. In this instance, we moved forward with the initiative I suggested—what a happy ending!