Cal Ripken Jr. didn’t want to talk about himself. Instead, one of the most unforgettable baseball players of the twentieth century wanted to discuss a program that encouraged children to get more involved in mathematics.
So, when I introduced him on a WOOD-AM/FM show with superlatives related to his career, Ripken paused a moment before saying with a smile that we could hear on radio’s theater of the mind, “Thanks very much for that introduction. But I need to say that I just spoke to a class of elementary school kids who had no idea who I am.”

Ripken was not the first person I have spent time with who turned the spotlight away from himself.  Bob Woodward, the journalist who along with Carl Bernstein sparked a media fire that brought down Richard Nixon, met with eight or nine of us before a speech in Grand Rapids.

Rather than answer our questions and talk about his latest book, Woodward first wanted to get to know us. We wound up in a semi-circle having a conversation, rather than what is often called a “meet and greet” with a celebrity who has come to entertain and pitch a book.

Then there was 1971. I was fifteen-years old, standing in an elevator in a Detroit church I heard a lady’s voice from down the hall asking me to hold the elevator door for her. I did.

It was Jane Fonda.

Rather than ignore me, the actress shook my hand and talked to me about my school, school’s newspaper, and what it as like to live in the Detroit area. She could have walked away when the elevator door opened again, but instead invited me to go with her to a press conference.

Cal Ripken, Bob Woodward and Jane Fonda all had one thing in common when I met them. They seemed more interested in me than themselves.

The people I have seen make the greatest impression while networking (i.e. talking with others) were the people who seemed much more interested in the other guy.

One of the best at this was a former boss in Muskegon, who always seemed genuinely impressed with what the other person was saying. He always reacted like it was the smartest, most amazing thing he had ever heard.

And he spent very little time talking about himself.

Lesson learned: What the person you are spending time with (i.e. networking) will take home with him or her is not how you made them feel about you. They will remember most how you made them feel about themselves.


Rod Kackley is a journalist who has written for Crain’s Michigan Business, MiBiz and The Detroit News. He is also a former news director of WOOD-AM/FM and has written the book, Last Chance Mile: The Reinvention of an American Community. For more of his work, please go to or download his free app available through iTunes and Google Play.

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