We already talked about the importance of finding a new passion, zipping up your “chutzpah pants,” and putting yourself out there to meet people in your industry who might be helpful to know down the road. But what do you do once you’re actually at the networking event, and how do you work the room in a genuine, non-sleazy, and efficient way? Read on and you’ll be the belle of the boardroom in no time:
1. Be smart, not a smarty pants: Be ready to be “on.” You are presenting a valuable product: yourself. Don’t make your first meeting your last meeting. Make it a lasting impression in a charming, savvy way. Show your strengths as a cool conversationalist, not a showoff. The trick to being strategic is not to come across as strategic at all.
2. Be a player: Nothing is worse than starting a conversation about the weather: “Wow, I’m glad it’s cooling down.” “Urgh, this rain sucks.” No, those statements suck. I hear them all the time, and they are a major turn-off . Rich Bitches are too smart for fluff. Unless you’re actually a meteorologist, think of something more clever. Live in Chicago? Have some idea about the Bears, Cubs, Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks. You may be a rabid fan or truly not care about sports, but I’m here to tell you that knowing something about sports is probably going to be important to your career. It’s the great equalizer as far as conversation topics go. So get in the game.
3. Listen: it sounds so, so obvious, but listen when people talk. I often say to the kids in my family, “You have two ears and one mouth, so listen more than you talk.” Sure, talk about work if it comes up, but never, ever hard-pitch yourself. Instead, ask questions and pay attention to the answers. You know why people think Bill Clinton is so charismatic? Because he makes every person he talks to, from a head of state to a busboy, feel like the most important person in the room. Do the same (minus the flirty business).
4. Follow up: I know sometimes it feels awkward, but always get contact information at the end of a good chat. Bring business cards (if you have them from work, great, but you can/should make your own, too) and also get her number or email. If she doesn’t have a card? Casually suggest having her type it into your phone. You can make a self-deprecating joke about it, like, “You can probably type better on it than I can. I’m a serial spell-check violator.” At the end of the night (or when she walks away, if you think you’ll forget), type some of the details you gathered while you were chatting into the notes section of your phone: a child’s name, where the person will be vacationing, or other identifying yet personal pieces of information. That way, when you follow up, you can say something like, “Hey, hope your son, Charlie, is feeling better,” or “Hey, still jealous of the tan you got from going to the shore.” Or, if it’s her birthday, send a thoughtful present. Make it specific, inexpensive and special for her. It doesn’t even need to be her birthday to send something either funny or creative. I can write an entire book on the presents I’ve given to people after meeting them. They are tokens of appreciation, nothing lavish. I’ve sent a USB drive to someone who said she liked the one I had on my keychain. I’ve sent a bottle of nail polish to someone who said she was thinking about trying a daring yellow manicure. I’ve sent gluten-free snacks to someone who said she had a tough time finding gluten-free food at work. The point is that it should be personal, not pricey.
5. Continue the conversation. Don’t rush it. Wait a beat before trying to set something up with someone you hit it off with. When you do ask for a “second date,” suggest a specific time and place. The “whatever you want” game puts you in a position of weakness, and no one likes the “which restaurant do you like?” ping-pong match. Even if you are totally wide open, still suggest a couple of times and places; it’s helpful, it’s assertive, and it gives the impression that you’re wildly busy (which, hello, you are). For example, say, “How’s Tuesday at ten or three-thirty?” instead of “Got any time next week?” After all, you’re in demand!