In her daily work at College Bound, Keisha Mabry, the organization’s director of innovation, administers a text messaging app for students called Bridgit 2 College, which connects high school graduates who’ve been accepted to colleges with people to send them reminders about deadlines to meet and experiences to prepare for when they go to college.
That’s not the only kind of connection that Mabry, a Teach for America and KIPP St. Louis alumna, cultivates in her life. She’s recently authored a book called “Hey Friend: 100 Ways to Connect with 100 People in 100 Days,” which reimagines networking as something called “friendworking.”
The idea came about 10 years ago, when Mabry graduated college and was looking to meet new people in her business life and in her social life. She challenged herself to make 100 connections in 100 days, but not just business card swaps. That process repeated itself several times when she moved to St. Louis to work for Teach for America, and over again when she switched jobs.
She said that the more people you meet, the more friends and connections you make, the better your life can be.
“We’re limited by our friends,” Mabry said. “All of our fears, dreams, hopes are limited by the people you meet or the people you don’t know. The more people you know, the more exposure you get, the more things your eyes are opened up to.”
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Mabry joined host Don Marsh to talk about the book, busting out of your bubble in St. Louis, and making new, meaningful friendships.
Here are five of her tips:
1. Say hello.
Mabry says that the average human passes about 60 to 170 people on the street per day, but we rarely take the time to even say “hello” to the people we see.
“It starts there, with a simple hello,” Mabry said. “I think we’ve gotten away from that. A simple hello does not come across as too strong, it comes across as acknowledging people as human beings and being in your space and taking a second to do that versus going about your busy day.”
2. Use social media as a way to start a conversation, but take it offline too.
Mabry said she didn’t get on Facebook until last year, at which point she used it as a way to stay in touch with people — but not the only way. She tries to move conversations from the digital world into in-person meetups for coffee, walks around town or even to run errands together.
3. Once you’ve made a connection, seek out ways to cultivate it.
“Once you curate a friendship, how do you cultivate it? The book talks about not only how to meet people, but how to keep the conversation going,” Mabry said. “Figure out what stories you can share and what connections you have.”
Mabry makes it a point to take note of every connection she makes, using a system like an Excel spreadsheet. She tracks when she meets people and sets a time to reconnect. Every month, she sets out specific hours during her weeks to reach back out to those connections – either to meet in person for coffee or lunch, write an email with a ‘hello,’ or to send articles she thinks might be of interest.
“You’ll find when you reach out to people, they’ll reach back,” Mabry said. “We oftentimes don’t think about our friendships like we think about our significant other relationships. You have to be proactive about keeping the relationship going, you have times you are communicating, you go to lunch. You make time for that person.”
4. If you’re nervous about connecting with new people, follow the ABCs.
A - Always be connecting, all connections start with a “hello.”
B - Be nice and smile.
C - Compliment when in doubt.
“When I first moved here, everyone would ask me the [high school] question, what I realized is that after interacting with people three times, they’d start to feel comfortable with me and invite me into their circle,” Mabry said. “For me, it was a matter of getting exposed and putting myself out there. Within my first 100 days here, I would go to two to three events a week to meet people. I went to different meetups, joined different groups to meet people.”
5. Seek out in-person meetups around a common interest.
Dave Wise, a St. Louis on the Air listener, shared his experience going to St. Louis-based meetups he found on Meetup.org or Facebook around the interests of board games and new dads. From those interactions, he and his wife found friends they interact with outside of those groups.
“Meetup.com is #58 in my book of 100 ways to meet people — it creates a commonality and comfort,” Mabry said. “When I first moved to St. Louis, I went to many meetups.”
Even if you don’t want to take the initiative, you have to put yourself in a path for people to meet you, Mabry said.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.