How to Build Professional Connections

Building Connections

I have found three ways to connect with professionals: at professional and casual business events, and at the supermarket or the coffeeshop, where you undertake the adventure solo. But don’t be fooled, even when it is solo, the engagement is still professional, even though it is more casual. Any engagement where your goal is to grow in your career or industry—or even to get a job—requires professionalism.

That means not to make enemies of anyone. During your search-for-opportunity-and-growth period, look at the world as fertile ground for growth and opportunity—both are hiding where you least expect them—and any engagement as a business event to build a connection—that doesn’t mean flash your business cards indiscriminately or hand them out to just about anybody. Be strategic and friendly.

Make no enemies of anyone. The only people you should be arguing with are your friends and family members, with moderation and without punches, of course, not strangers—not, at least, till you can afford to be snooty.

A stranger, even badly dressed, can be a gold mine when you’re looking for opportunities, though always use good judgment, and don’t think everyone offers opportunities. Use your nose, don’t give yourself too readily to every opportunity any Joe Schmo offers, because there are beasts who like to take advantage of people in the developmental stage of their careers.

Casual and professional events are a little clearer in what they demand of your behavior. Casual events are less uptight, and there are less suits, but it doesn’t mean you should not look clean and presentable. Professional events, of course, may require a tie or a ballgown, or a nice business suit. Professional events are of every kind. Sometimes they are cocktail parties—think 007—and some juice parties—think prom! Nevertheless, their goals are always the same, to connect people typically in similar industries or professions with one another.

Business Events

Events will more often than not have a hostess or a host, and sometimes there is a price for the event, often a donation jar. (Hint: it’s never really optional, so be ready to shell out the minimum “donation”).

The hostess or host will either carry out the introductions or throw you to the wolves. Either method is effective if you know how to exploit it.

I learned to connect by observing and engaging with people I felt to have more in common with or who had a more welcoming attitude. I tried connecting with writers when I was writing my book and after I had finished writing it, but I felt it would be a waste of time. Though I did attend some other similar events—but for other reasons.

I used to view such events the wrong way: orgies of people trying to demonstrate who has the biggest business cards. Not everyone, of course, is this way, not most people indeed, but several. Never seek a connection without offering anything in return. One rule of thumb is offering something for the sake of offering it without asking for a return. The return comes later by establishing the connection.

The pursuit of connections, like the pursuit of money and self-growth, is an honorable pursuit. Most people at business events are upstanding people with a good heart.

Unlike Hollywood events supposed to be full of actors or important people in the movie industry, where people will not talk to you unless they know you from somewhere or you look important, business events are far more honorable and decent.

At business events, people can smell a rat. Don’t act like you’re at a Hollywood director’s party looking for that person who will introduce you to the director. Seek to build relationships, first and foremost. The director might come with it. The least likely person in the world could open doors. So treat everyone with respect.

Make no mistake, however: everyone at a business event is there to connect with people who will lead to an opportunity for growth, plain and simple. It’s honorable to want to grow and to build bridges. No one else is looking after yourself but you.

Whether the hostess or host introduces you or not, remember, you are still introducing yourself. Have a plan on what to say before you approach, unless you’re a pro at thinking on your feet. Join the conversation if you are introduced to a group. If you don’t know what to say in the initial stages, laugh at the jokes.

As a guy, I’ve always found it unpalatable to ask a woman what she does for a living in such a setting. Nor do I offer anything about myself in a direct way. I squeeze my profession into the conversation through some remark that either goes along with the topic—I was about to write toilet—or make it relevant to the topic, somehow.

All the same, everyone expects to learn about your business, to find compatibility. However, don’t just get numbers, nor eschew—even if you do it, politely—the guy in the corner, or the person in a different type of business. Relationships are the most important. The plumber might know the president of the company you want to be a part of, or have a friend who does. Relationships are the best connections.

Once you ask someone what brings him or her to the event, don’t go into talking about yourself. You will find the time. If the person isn’t interested, then he or she just lost a chance exploiting the people you might know, and you’ll be better off not engaging with someone so self-interested. Yet, again, most people are decent people. Let the person you’re speaking to want to know about you.

Pitch Without Pitching

Once you get to talking about yourself, do it casually without bragging. Say you’re a plumber writing a book about plumbing at a writers event. You may talk about your book, and how you came up with the idea for the book, but don’t talk overly much about your book. Get the other person interested in wanting to know about it.

Always be likable and don’t seek connections from the person you’re speaking to. Like you, he or she might be just starting out. But if you’re likable enough, he or she might introduce you, personally, to one who’s more down your alley. To build connections, you must build relationships.

At the end of an event, don’t forget the wonderful person you met. Run and thank him or her for the great time, and give them your card. Ask him or her to have coffee one day.

The moral is, don’t blow anyone off, and be respectful of everyone. You’re all in the same boat. Build relationships. Sometimes, they may be long lasting and fruitful. You might end up being great, long friends who share connections.