The Networking Game: Tips and Secrets to Making Good Connections
by Danielle Fife
Just two weeks into my first internship I was tasked with the responsibility of introducing a prominent gun rights activist and lobbyist at a conference. I was nervous because I knew I had one chance to be memorable and make a connection. When we finally met, I was nervous, but I shook her hand, introduced myself, and thanked her for coming. In the few minutes we had, we discussed her topic and I was able to share a personal anecdote and gratitude for her talk. When she left, she gave me her business card and I had made a connection. This opportunity and others have taught me several tools of effective networking.
During my internship, I discovered that Washington D.C. is a surprisingly small town, yet, making connections is still daunting. Everywhere I turned, I met someone new. I knew that I was supposed to be making a lot of deep connections but I knew nothing about this terrifying concept we call "networking."
After a summer in Washington, I think I have finally gotten the hang of how to network effectively.
Networking is a lot like dating.
From trial and error (in both fields) I have learned a few things that I want to share with you.
#1 – The First Few Moments Count
When you extend your hand to a potential connection, the clock is ticking. You have moments to make yourself both memorable and relatable. When the inevitable "what do you do?" question comes up, be prepared. Your first impression will define if a relationship follows or if you both move on. Be friendly and enthusiastic, and keep them interested. Find some common ground and work from there. If nothing comes to mind, it never hurts to ask questions.
#2 – Friends First, Always
Sometimes a girl just wants to get to know a guy without any expectations. Is it too much to ask?
The same rule goes for networking. Don't start out with expectations. Networking starts by making a friend. If you approach someone and immediately ask for a favor, chances are you will strike out. Not only is this tacky and unprofessional behavior, you aren't networking, you are being selfish.
Make a friend and then see what you can offer each other in the future. These connections that you make should be for life and be mutually beneficial. If your immediate objective is to get a job or favor, that is a turn off because you are just using them. No one likes to be used.
#3 – Show an Interest
You should always be prepared to start a conversation when you meet someone new. Keep up on relevant pop culture and current events to avoid any awkward small talk. If you don't know what to say, ask a question. People love to talk about themselves and love people who let them talk about themselves. Your chances of making a connection are better if they like talking to you.
#4 – Pursue the Spark
If the conversation is going well and you think there is a connection, offer to continue the conversation, and hand them a business card. This gives them all the information they need to contact you again.
NOTE: If you do not have business cards, go, right now, and order some. I promise that this article will still be here when you are done. There is no better way to ensure future contact with someone you meet than by exchanging business cards.
#5 – Always Call (And Call Right Away)
Forget the three day rule. Waiting is for chumps. This is 2016. Email or call your new connection while your meeting is still fresh in both of your minds; you should shoot for the next business day. This way you can plan to meet again and finish your conversation.
Invite your new connection to coffee. Everyone loves coffee (and if they don't, they should) and a coffee date can last for five minutes or five hours. It is more casual and comfortable, and the meeting can be as short or as long as you both want.
#6 – Ask for a Second "Date"
If the conversation is not over and you have more to talk about, great! Ask your new connection if you can finish the conversation next week. Just like a second date, this continues your relationship into the future. By continuing to meet, you can turn a casual connection into a strong contact.
Much like dating, networking is challenging and often riddled with mixed signals and dashed hopes. Even in a big city with millions of people, it is hard to meet someone you connect with, but if you implement these tools, networking will be a breeze. Now, go out there, and make connections.
Danielle Fife is a 2016 CBLPI summer intern.