Since I am a naturally reclusive person, I have to take steps to optimize “Nicole Time.” Usually, I am able to wing it and don’t have to plan too hard. But for times when I can’t do that, and putting myself out there feels scary, being strategic about it helps. Here are five ways that I make the most of networking, so you can learn the most from my mistakes and work your next room like a pro:
- Find two passions: Something you already love and something new you’d love to try. Don’t even think about saying, “I don’t want to/I’m too old to/I have some random excuse not to learn something new.” Trying something new for the sake of trying something new is something I’d never argue with, but I’d strongly argue for learning something to help you be better at work. Learn from the greats; those “ah-ha!” moments can be pushed along by doing things out of your actual job or focus. It’s at those times that you allow yourself to get outside your comfort zone, like Steve Jobs did by taking a calligraphy class in college. You know all the awesome fonts we now have the option of using? Those stemmed from a class Jobs audited. It led him to think differently about how typefaces were created. So think differently (no pun intended) about things that may expand your skill set to improve what you are already doing in unexpected ways.
- Schedule up! Industry events are important for getting to know more people within your world, and I can guarantee that the more events you go to, the smaller that world will become. So how do you get invited to industry events? Make it known that you’re ready and eager. Talk about your passions to friends, colleagues, mentors and acquaintances. It sounds so simple, but just talking about your passions is a great way to move them along. People you talk to might have recon on an event, recommendations for people who might have event connections in that space, or just interesting intros to help you out with. So aside from the obvious research you should be doing yourself, ask around. All it costs you is breath.
- Do your homework: Who’s going to be at your event? Do you have a mutual friend? Is there a piece of work or accomplishment the person achieved that you admire? Have genuine conversation starters at the ready. “Oh, do you know so-and-so?” or “Hey, I saw your blahdyblah. It was incredible!” You want to get a sense of who is going to be there and try to prep a little in advance. I’m not talking about putting together a document or getting crazy with your research; you can just do a quick check on your phone on the way over. And by the way, getting there “on time” means getting there ten to fifteen minutes early. Why? Because just like you, every party host is afraid that no one is going to show up. If you’re one of the first to arrive, you will have the opportunity for the host’s undivided attention without and will succeed. So put on your chutzpah pants before you head out the door.
- Speaking of “chutzpah,” have some. It’s one of my favorite words. Chutzpah is Yiddish but applies to everyone with a can-do attitude. Supreme self-confidence, gall, nerve, guts and balls are all close synonyms. Having chutzpah is having a headstrong, self-assured knowledge that you can and will succeed. So put on your chutzpah pants before you head out the door.
- Let friends be your social lubricant, not alcohol. You might have had a long day, you might be nervous, but stay in control of yourself. Do you need to bring a friend to be your wing-man or -woman? Bring one. He or she can help you socialize. Repeat after me: Don’t. Get. Drunk. If you get out of hand, you will forever be that girl who can’t handle her alcohol and you won’t need to worry about making an impression because you’ll be remembered for all the wrong reasons. And there’s no greater blow to the next day’s productivity than taking too many shots and wasting it nursing a hangover.