Gawker's Better State of Living Conversation series is brought to you with the support of State FarmTM. Today, social life expert Chiara Atik is live in the comments to answer your questions about networking in the New Year.
Do you feel uncomfortable with the idea of "schmoozing?" Yeah, so does most of the population. While everyone wants to make useful connections that could help their personal or professional life, it's hard to write that introductory email, to go up to someone at a party and introduce yourself, or ask for that meeting. And no one wants to be that nakedly ambitious person who spends parties looking around the room, trying to find the right person to talk to. Gross.
Here's the trick with networking: Think of it as a natural extension of your social life, rather than its own separate skill or activity. If your MO in life is to meet new and interesting people, then networking becomes something that happens naturally and subtly. When you go to a party or professional event, don't go with the narrow goal of making an important connection — though that may very well end up happening - but rather with the intention to having conversations with as many different people as possible. If you're friendly and open, you'll be amazed at the types of connections you make — and the ease with which you make them.
Something else to keep in mind: People like meeting people. So if you feel hesitant about talking to someone, remember that there's absolutely nothing offensive about introducing yourself. Just keep things as light and casual as possible. ("Hi, I just wanted to introduce myself, I'm ______." is basically fail-proof.) Let the conversation flow naturally: Don't be pushy, but do feel free to bring up anything you want to call to their attention, whether it's a project you're working on, a committee you're interested in joining, a party you're throwing, etc. If they seem really interested, provide details! If they seem like they couldn't care less, change the subject. When the conversation has run its course, say, "It was so nice meeting you/getting to talk to you!" and bow out — don't latch on to them for the rest of the night! If exchanging business cards is your thing, a polite "Let me give you my card" is great - but better not to ask for their number or email unless they offer it.
After meeting someone at a party, however briefly, cement your acquaintance (or pursue it farther), by sending a brief email (or Facebook message, or tweet, or what have you), just reiterating that it was nice to have talked to them. Keep it brief and light. If you feel comfortable/confident, you can add an invitation of sorts. ("Would love to get coffee and discuss further"/"We should get a drink some time"/"Hope to collaborate at some point soon.") Again, don't overthink it and don't be pushy: There is nothing bothersome about a perfectly polite, succinct follow-up email.
Ultimately, schmoozing is easy: You just have to be open. Open to attending events, open to going a little outside of your comfort zone, open to talking to new people, and open to having other people talk to you. (If someone comes up to you at a party and introduces himself or herself, be friendly and open, no matter how uninteresting they may initially seem.)
It's a subtle skill, and the best way to perfect it is to practice! Go to parties and talk to people and see where it takes you.
Wondering whether it's okay to friend request someone on Facebook if you have mutual friends in common? Looking to find backers for a project, and not sure how to approach them? Suffering from general social malaise? Ask a question below, and we'll work it all out!
Illustration by Ramona Udvardi, Studio@Gawker