Networking can give even the most accomplished professionals anxiety, but for UMGC graduate Sonny Tannan ’13, making genuine connections is one of the most important parts of his job. Tannan is the Director of Business Development for the United Way of Central Maryland. In this role, he engages with community members and influencers to build partnerships and expand the organization's financial support.
Tannan believes the secret to a successful career in business development is being authentic. He emphasizes a lesson he learned in the military, “Your integrity translates to who you are both professionally and personally. If you stay true to who you are, people will gravitate to you and you will be successful.”
He also stresses how important it is to put yourself in others’ shoes. “The more you learn about what makes people tick, what makes their businesses profitable, and where a person or organization is coming from, the more successful you will be. You have to be willing to put in the time and research to understand the people and organization you are trying to collaborate with,” he says.
Tannan joined the non-profit sector because he felt grateful for the opportunities he had throughout his life and wanted to give back. He transitioned to his role with United Way after more than a decade in sales leadership roles with UPS and an accomplished military career. He says his UMGC education and volunteering in his community helped him grow the necessary skills and prepare him for this career pivot.
Last spring, United Way of Central Maryland recognized Tannan’s community service by naming him a “Philanthropic Five” award recipient at its Emerging Leaders United (ELU) Young Professionals Conference. The award honors five young professional leaders who are creating positive change in central Maryland through leadership in their communities. Some of Tannan’s philanthropic activities prior to joining United Way included being chair of board development of the Y of Central Maryland, co-chair for the UPS Veterans Business Resource Group and social media coordinator for the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.
Tannan believes his UMGC education solidified his strengths, such as marketing, but also encouraged him to get out of his comfort zone. He says finance, particularly macroeconomics, was initially a weakness. He had to work very hard in the class and appreciated the collaboration between classmates and his professor that helped him overcome this hurdle. Gaining this larger financial understanding has also helped him better understand and connect with leaders in his community.
How to be more effective in networking and in meetings
Tannan meets with business and community leaders every day and stresses the importance of being intentional in your interactions. “Every conversation you have with someone is a build or break. You have the opportunity to build yourself up in that person’s eyes and if you go in unprepared, that first impression will stay for a very long time.”
He acknowledges that every conversation is going to be different, but suggests three things that should be in every connection if you want to build meaningful and enduring relationships:
- The introduction: “There should clearly be a personal connection. You have to be genuinely interested in something the person, company or organization has done,” says Tannan.
- Substance of the conversation: Tannan suggests coming into a meeting with a clearly laid out agenda so attendees know what you want to talk about; it is clear you have listened and acknowledged what they want to talk about; and you can find common ground with mutually beneficial topics.
- The Finale: Be clear about action items. “Walk away with the specific ask or clearly outline what the next meeting is going to entail and who needs to be part of that conversation,” says Tannan.
Tannan acknowledges there are a lot of things competing for attention in people’s personal and professional lives. He reiterates the need to be respectful of people’s time and go into meetings with clearly identified agendas and leave with specific action items/next steps.
Hear more about Tannan’s story and advice for building business relationships in his Candid Career video.
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