How to attain power and influence

Hi. A friend of mine asked me to write about networking. I'm not sure, but I think it was joke.

So what did they ask exactly?


I am, I believe, not very good at networking. I also don't think I'm considered a big deal at Contentful (if you work here as well, feel free to correct me)! So this is a strange request. But in the interest of having something to write about, I lit some incense, consulted The Tarot and then visualised a life where I am good at networking, and am a big deal at Contentful. It was quite the trip, and I returned with some really interesting lessons.

The best time to start being a big deal was when you met me. The second best time is now.

First axiom: being a big deal is a matter of perspective. Specifically it is a matter of the perspective of the person who you want to think that you are a big deal.

Second axiom: networking is the art of convincing people that you are a big enough deal that they should spend their time talking to you, helping you, thinking about you, taking you to Berghain etc.

When you meet someone, you get to make one (1) first impression. This is important, because it's when you get to set the baseline for which their judgements of your future actions will be updates. As people get to know you more, the updates they make will get smaller and smaller until they narrow in on an essentially fixed opinion of you. At this point it will take extreme actions on your part to cause further updates.

If you have four meetings with someone and in two you come across well while in the other two you come across badly, the order in which those meetings happen will have a big impact on the person's overall impression of you.

This graph shows the final 'big deal score' when you make a good first impression Spurious hand drawn graph purporting to show that first impressions matter

And this graph shows the final 'big deal score' when you make a bad first impression Another slightly different yet still spurious hand drawn graph purporting to show that first impressions matter

Your starting position has an oversized impact on how people perceive you*. So you should try and make good first impressions.

* Have I researched whether this is actually true? No. Do I intend to? No.

How do you make good impressions? I suggest trying to be warm, friendly, funny, open, honest, tall and good looking. Also I think it's good to be quite weird. People remember weird.

Other ways to seem like a big deal

One of the most overpowered ways of seeming more important is to pursue opportunities that will mean lots of people in your organisation are forced to know who you are. This means that when your team is asked 'who wants to present this boring thing, at this boring meeting' you should be the first one to say 'yes, me, I will do it'.

You should try to make whatever you present actually interesting and well prepared, and snappy and not really really boring. Most presentations that have been given throughout history are so boring that no one can pay attention to them. If you agree to do public speaking and do it well, everyone will know who you are and everyone will love you.

INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT NOTE: adding gifs to a powerpoint presentation does not automatically make it interesting.

Here are some examples of people who can present well. Simply observe and copy.

Strategies for when you join a new organisation

We've seen that first impressions are important. When you join a new organisation (starting a new job, moving to a new school, joining a choir etc) you get to make a lot of first impressions. But don't just let this happen to you. You should be deliberate about the process to ensure that you are getting to meet as many people as possible - and then you should strategically decide which of those relationships to cultivate.

Step 1: meet everyone. When you join something, generally no one is expecting you to make a big impact immediately. This means that it's the perfect time to 'network'. Start arranging to have one on one conversations with everyone that it's remotely reasonable for you to introduce yourself to.

Step 2: Use these conversations to gauge who is high talent, high agency, or highly influential within the organisation. Once you've done this, simply cultivate a strong and beautiful friendship with these people. Meet them for coffee, take them to lunch, go watch poorly conceived performance art pieces with them. This is how you gain influence and power within organisations. It's also how you make lifelong friends.

Step 3: Let's be honest. It's hard to make new friends as an adult. Many people feel like they don't have as many friends as they like, and feel powerless to fix it. But it really really is something you have the ability to change. Most people you meet want to have more friends. In fact, they want to be friends with you. But growing an acquaintance into a friend is hard, and is emotionally dangerous in the same way that building any sort of relationship is. People don't want to make the first move because they don't want to be hurt. Be willing to open yourself up to people, be the one who invites your acquaintances to become your friends. You need to realise that this life is just a fleeting thing, and that at the end you will regret your fears much more than any long forgotten mistakes and embarrassments.