As many of you know, the State Policy Network Annual Meeting is just around the corner. Those who have attended understand that it’s one of the best free-market networking events of the year. As such, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this month’s Talent Tip to networking.
If you’re like many people, your palms are already sweating as you think about how to mingle with senior leaders, board members, VIPS, and other movers and shakers.
Fear not! Here are seven tips that will make networking a breeze.
- Be proactive. As you can imagine, VIPs, executives, and influencers are incredibly busy at SPNAM. So, if you want to connect with someone, you will need to make the first move. That means proactively approaching the person and introducing yourself. Sound awkward? It won’t be if you’re prepared. See tip #2!
- Be prepared. If there is someone you want to connect with at the meeting, do your homework in advance. Read the person’s bio and LinkedIn profile to get a good understanding of his/her background and interests. Not only will this provide needed context for a productive conversation, but it will also generate plenty of fodder for an ice-breaker.
For instance, if you wanted to connect with me, your research would tell you that I went to Notre Dame. So, you could introduce yourself and then shout out a gratuitous “GO IRISH!” That would instantly make us best friends and the rest would be easy. For less adventurous types, a simple comment about the person’s work will suffice. “Hello, Claire. I admire Talent Market’s work and just wanted to introduce myself.” It’s just that easy!
- Be respectful of his/her time. Because senior leaders and other professionals have such overbooked dance cards, you’ll want to be respectful of their time. The key item is making the connection: introduce yourself, have a brief conversation, and set the stage for future communication. You don’t need to have an hour-long dialog there if you can just as easily arrange a phone call later. And whatever you do, don’t attempt to corner someone in a networking function and hold the person against his will. If you notice the person’s eyes darting around looking for an escape route, you’ve talked too much and need to set him free!
- Be appreciative and keep in touch. Even if you spend only five minutes talking to someone or asking advice, be sure to thank the person. Tell him/her it was great to connect and that you’d like to stay in touch. Offer your business card and ask for one in return. Don’t forget to follow-up via email after the meeting and keep in touch.
- If it’s just about you, you’re not networking. “But enough about me, let’s talk about me.” Are you that guy? If so, you’re not networking. In fact, you’re doing the opposite of networking. Effective networking is a two-way street. A strong networker is eager to learn about new people and genuinely wants to help others.
- Change the way you think about networking. My friend Pagona Stratoudakis makes this point beautifully: “The real aha moment I’ve had about networking is the term is almost the antithesis of what it should really be. It’s not working and it’s not just about building a web or applying a program. It’s about meeting people, caring enough to listen to them, being considerate enough to think of them, and helping them progress even if they don’t ask — and not expecting anything in return and being gracious and grateful if something comes your way. Its just being a good person and making friends.”
- Have fun! SPNAM is one of the best networking event of the year — but your networking doesn’t have to feel like work! That means your conversations don’t have to revolve around the intricacies of tax policy or the long-term consequences of Janus. They can be fun! One of my most memorable networking conversations at SPNAM was with a gal who told me about her family’s rescue dogs. She had learned I had a rescue dog and she used that information as our conversation-starter. Because our interaction was personal, it stuck with me. As a result, I’ll always remember Dana…not to mention Winky and Abby (the dogs!).
Hopefully this advice helps prep you for this year’s SPNAM! See you in Salt Lake City!