(Disclaimer: Using these networking tips may result in an enormous Rolodex, through which you might change the world.)
1. You will say something inane, at some point, to someone. Someone will reject you, look for someone more interesting, or only be half listening. Get over it. Keep going. No one really cares.
2. Get yourself invited. Look at the host committee, look at the board, look at the staff, find a connection to ask to be a guest or volunteer at the event.
3. Come prepared. Bring contact/business cards. Know the dress code. Know the seating plan. Read the newspaper, listen to NPR, scan the latest edition of the relevant industry rag. Google search your targets. Form intelligent questions for lobbing into the conversation.
4. Remember that networking is just a series of conversations. And, a conversation isn’t just waiting for the other person to stop speaking so that you can start. Listen more than you speak and be attentive as you do so.
5. Be Yourself. Annoying pompous know-it-all blowhards are, well, annoying.
6. Tell your story. You will be asked who you are and why you are in attendance. Have your elevator speech ready, and give it with energy.
7. Don’t be shy. Ask for what you want. You aren’t a mind reader, and neither is the person you are meeting. Ask at the event, ask before the event, ask after the event. Just ask!
8. Remember that networking is a two-way street. You aren’t just there to get something; you are there to learn what you, too, can give. This is a gift for everyone involved. What can you give?
9. Know what to say. Sports events, major news cycles, the success of the event, the beauty of an item of jewelry, the quality of the hors-d’oeuvres. Even owning your nervousness can be endearing.
10. Know what not to say. Avoid topics that are lightning rods, too personal, or too broad. But, judge this by the event: you can talk more politics at the ACLU national convention than at a fundraising fashion show.
11. Do your homework. Get an invitation list and do some research. Pinpoint your targets and determine how you can reach them, emotionally, intellectually, etc. What are your commonalities?
12. Bring a wingman or wing woman. But remember that no one looks stupid standing alone. And if you are alone, find someone else who is too!
13. Always follow up. Days, weeks, years later. Make use of holiday cards, social media, email, handwritten notes, article clippings/links, future events. Stay current and present.
14. Know how to transition. Learn how to say goodbye gracefully, and do so whether you are talking to someone interesting or not.
15. Own the part. You have just as much right to be there as anybody else. “Remembering your manners” doesn’t mean apologizing repeatedly. It means saying thank you repeatedly.
16. Know Thyself. If you are clumsy, don’t pick up the saucy hors-d’oeuvres or grab a glass of red wine, unless you want the whole room seeing it on your tie. Multitasking networking and passed appetizers is one thing, networking, and multitasking turning appetizers into dinner is another.
17. Watch the alcohol. A glass of sparkling water with a twist looks just like a gin and tonic. But you won’t need to apologize to the host after drinking three of one of these.
18. Deal with the awkwardness. When you don’t know what to say: ask questions and give compliments (to the person in front of you or to something/someone you have in common). When all else fails, go back to the check-in table and start again.
19. Smile. You catch more flies with honey. No one likes a sourpuss. Turn that frown upside down. Buck up, buttercup. You get my point: lighten up!
20. Make hay, even if the sun doesn’t shine. Did you flop in epic fashion? Be THAT guy/gal. At least you are memorable! Remember that there is no such thing as bad press. You didn’t get to talk with your must-meet target? Send them an email and tell them you’d hoped to, and didn’t, and would love to have an informational interview. I guarantee you’ll get it.