Interview with Andy Lopata
What is the message you hope people take away from your presentations?
First of all, I want them to see networking as a positive tool that can help them to achieve both their business and their personal career objectives. In many countries and cultures, networking has a negative image associated with self-promotion and manipulative behaviour. If I can change that perception and encourage people to embrace the support they can both give to and receive from other people then I will have made a difference.
The core message then comes down to which presentation I am delivering, whether it is a renewed confidence when attending networking events, a greater understanding of who to approach for which challenges and how or the understanding of how to generate referrals.
How do you prepare for speaking engagements?
Conversations with the client as far in advance as possible are key to understanding their objectives from booking me. I like to understand how my presentation will be considered a success – from the organiser’s perspective, from senior management’s perspective and from the delegates’ perspective.
I read through the organisation’s website and speak with the meeting planner and, if appropriate, some of the people who will be in the audience, to understand the culture of the client and the demographic of the audience.
Where I know them I will speak with speakers who have been booked by the client before to get the benefit of their experience and also look to speak to other speakers on the same programme if there is a chance our presentation topics will overlap.
Finally, if it is a full day event I will spend as much time as possible at the event so that I can understand and reference what has gone before when I speak.
What do you gain personally from being a public speaker?
I thrive on the feedback from people who have implemented the ideas I talk about and succeed as a result. The constant challenge of speaking to different audiences with different backgrounds, experiences, challenges and from different cultures also gives me a sense of achievement. I also learn a tremendous amount simply through the process of understanding my audience and their needs.
How much does humor factor into your keynotes and other speaking engagements?
I’m not a comedian so don’t try to force humour into presentations but I do like to make people laugh. My approach is to do so naturally, although over the years you do learn what works and what doesn’t.
Why is networking important in business?
Networking is a vital tool for both individuals and for businesses. Many people make the mistake of thinking of networking just as online networks like LinkedIn or events where people exchange business cards over wine and canapes. Those, however, are just tools in the networking process and a strong networking strategy is focused on the people you already know rather those you have just met.
A network of people around you, people who have ideas, experiences, expertise, contacts and a worldview that complement your own, can help you overcome challenges much more easily.
I believe that networks help us achieve three things. They help us become better known, better equipped and better connected. All three areas are vital both to business growth and career progression.
How are your keynote presentations unique?
Although I do speak about networking skills, many of my talks focus much more on the strategy behind networking, which not many speakers entertain.
In addition, where a meeting planner has the time and capacity to allow me to do so, I make my presentations interactive. This has the benefit of encouraging participative and experiential learning rather than me just sharing ideas and tips. It also means that I can bring together delegates from different parts of an organisation or audience and ease them into a strong conversation with each other, forging relationships for the rest of the event and beyond.
Do you have any unique memorable moments in your speaking career?
Many! Perhaps the biggest moment for me so far was speaking alongside former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize winner F W de Klerk.
Can you provide 3 tips for successful networking?
- Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, who can help you reach those goals and what you need to ask for.
- If attending a networking event, overcome fears of approaching strangers and make sure you follow up with the people with whom you have a rapport, something in common or should be pursuing a business relationship with.
- Don’t try to sell to people you have just met and don’t ask a stranger ‘what do you do?’. Get to know the individual first and pursue the relationship rather than the sale.