Smartiquette question this week is about networking – “How do I network gracefully? IE, enter or join a conversation with people I don’t know, network effectively, utilize the art of timing and move on?”
What a great question. Personally, I’m totally flummoxed by networking. When I walk into a room full of strangers I immediately find myself dreaming about what I’ve got saved on Tivo and how soon I can get home to watch it. Without getting into this being one of the reasons I started SMARTY, there is an art and finesse to “good” networking – meaning, the kind that doesn’t make you seem corny, contrived, aggressive or desperate. Here are my tips:
1. Attend events with a friend (or two.) This isn’t for “safety” although it’s nice to have someone to talk with for the first 5 minutes as you acclimate. It’s really because each of you bring your own set of contacts and the more of you there are, the more likely one of you is to run into someone at the event/party who will know someone else, and someone else, etc.
2. Wear your smile. Yup, grin it up. People want to talk to someone who seems open and approachable. This isn’t New York where you have to look cool and aloof – this is sunny Los Angeles where you can be happy and still be cool (I said that just to provoke a bunch of reactions from defensive Manhattanites.)
3. To get a conversation going, use any of these as long as they make sense and are true:
“I love your bag – where did you get it?”
“I love your style – that XX is super cute.”
“I love your haircut – who does it?”
“I love your INSERT HERE.”
Get it? Just make sure you really do love it because likely if you’re into someone’s outer layer, you might be into their inner one too.
4. It’s quality, not quantity. Even if you only meet 3 new people, you’ve made a better connection than if you worked the room and gathered 20 business cards.
Networking is a hideous word with even more horrid connotations – it just seems lame. So approach it lightly, with few expectations and as though you’re there to make friends. Everyone feels the same way – so jump in, talk about other things besides business if you can, then get around to what you do and why. Oh, and have your business card ready!