Anyone who’s spent a day in business knows the value of having an extensive network. Social and business networking events can be fast-paced, unfocused, and filled with people of dissimilar backgrounds and no synergies other than their taste in suits. Mastering the art of the schmooze and walking out of a room with the right connections takes years of practice. As a transitioning service member and a newcomer to the private sector, you won’t get it right the first time. You may crash and burn, but hopefully, you won’t burn as badly as I first did if you take these rules into account.
Rule 1: Business cards are earned by good conversations
Save a tree and avoid handing your cards out like candy. Passing out your business card to multiple people in a group is distracting and comparable to sending spam mail. Instead, make people want it after they’ve engaged you in scintillating conversation. When someone asks for your card, it signals that they want to follow up with you and carry on the conversation. If you do decide to exchange cards, write a few words about what was discussed on their card and send them an email the next day out of formality. A note of caution: Do not send one email to multiple contacts made in one evening.
Rule 2: Everyone wants to be friends with people that do cool stuff and have the best stories
“You are more than your job,” “Your value is not measured by what you have in the bank,” and “Your success is not defined by your possessions” are things your parents might tell you and 99 percent of the time they’re right. Unfortunately, in a business networking environment you must convey in a short amount of time that you are good at your job and that you’re responsible enough with money to have a diversified investment portfolio (or at least understand enough to fake it). Lastly, the cool things you have and the unique places you’ve been to are phenomenal conversation starters. Just be careful that you do this with tact and moderation. You don’t want to go to the extreme and come off as a shameless self-promoter.
Rule 3: Never disagree with anyone on trivial issues during a first impression
Political issues and current affairs will come up in conversation, but don’t get distracted by them. Your goal is to walk out of that room being well-liked by everyone. Stay away from bringing new material into the conversation with words or phrases like but, however, on the contrary or I disagree, because these words and phrases signal that you are about to counter an assertion which immediately triggers defensive mechanisms in the other person. So preface your substantive responses with “Interesting! That’s definitely a unique take on this issue, and I want to add…” or distance yourself from your counter point via a third-party question by asking, “What would you say to people who claim that…”
Armed with what you now know from this compressed finishing school, you can now go out and practice effective networking.
Kelly Crigger, writing on behalf of Bourbiz, is a retired Army Officer with over 200 articles and 8 books to his credit. Dark World, a collaboration with The Travel Channel's Zak Bagans, reached the New York Times Bestseller list in 2011. His first novel was released in November 2016.
BourBiz is an innovative series of premium bourbon, scotch, wine and whiskey tastings/meet-and-greets and the brainchild of GCO Consulting President Scott Davidson, a retired Army Captain who wanted to create an exclusive environment for veterans and military spouses to meet, greet, and work together without the stigma of a traditional stiff networking evening. BourBiz is coming to several major cities Sept and Oct. Registration for Bourbiz is free and samples are complimentary.