How to Connect With Professionals When You’re Starting Out

Connection Events

There are three types of connection events, the professional, the casual, and the one you undertake solo. But don’t be fooled, they’re all professional. Any type of engagement where your goal is to meet a person who might help you in your career or industry—or even to get a job—requires you to be professional.

That means not to make enemies of anyone if you’re at a party. During your search-for-opportunity-and-growth period, look at the world as a fertile ground for both growth and opportunity—they’re hiding where you least expect them—and any social gathering as a connection event, without meaning you should be flashing your business cards indiscriminately and handing them out to just about anybody. Be strategic and friendly.

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.

In short, when you’re looking for opportunities, any stranger can be a gold mine. Use your nose, don’t give yourself too readily to every opportunity any Joe Schmo offers, because there are beasts who like to take take advantage of people in the developmental stage of their careers or pursuits. Now, this part is the solo pursuit. Remember you are growing. Don’t pick fights, don’t look down on people. Overall, stay honest.

Casual and professional events are a little clearer in what they demand of your behavior. Casual are less uptight, and there are less suits, but it doesn’t mean you should not look your best, even in a casual way. Professional events, of course, may require a tie and 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.

Introductions

Events will more often than not have a hostess or host, and sometimes there is a price for the event, even a voluntary one with a donation jar at the entrance. (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. Like I used to, you will find many people with little in common with you. 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 for other reasons.

I used to see a connection party the wrong way: an orgy, not of everyone, perhaps not of most, but of several people wanting something from others without care for others but themselves, who always try to connect to the top dog in the party and dismiss the guy in the corner just rising in the world.

There is nothing wrong with being in a party set up to connect people with similar or different professions with each other. The pursuit of connections, money, and self-growth are honorable pursuits. Despite some personal experiences, most people at these events are upstanding people with a good heart, and most are there to build more than a connection—unless you’re in a Hollywood’s director’s party.

I’ve been to some of these Hollywood events, without directors, though. People will not talk to you unless they know you from somewhere or you look important. People always approached me with questions about what I did and who I was and whether I knew the famous person talking to my friend. When they realized I didn’t meet their criteria, they vanished to conquer someone else. I can bet a thousand dollars none of them got the part.

When you engage a connection party like a vulture seeking the best meat, people can smell you. Don’t act like you’re at a Hollywood director’s party looking for that person who will introduce you to the director. What you want to do is 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. Like they all matter.

Now, of course, people at a connection event are there to connect with people who will help them with their careers, or lead them to people who might, plain and simple. It’s honorable to want to grow and to build bridges. No one else is looking after yourself but you. Just do it the right way, at least if you meet people like me, and there are plenty of me’s out there.

Whether the hostess or host introduces you or not, remember, you are still introducing yourself once she or he leaves. 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 either wait to be asked, or 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 through a strategic method.

But everyone expects to learn about your business, to find compatibility, along with other aspects about you. Yet, 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. Those are the best connections.

Once you ask someone what brings him or her here, 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 in someone so self-interested. But most people are decent people. Let the person you’re speaking to want to know about you, just like he or she waited to be asked by you about him or her. Even after you do answer that question, revert the topic back about the person in front of you. Build a relationship. You’ll get more “connections” that way.

Pitch Without Pitching

Once you get to talking about yourself, do it casually, either at a professional event or a casual one, 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. Such a person might be his or her friend, happy to recommend you because you’ve been simply a delightful company, and do likewise for them if you’re the one who knows someone.

At the end of the event, don’t forget these wonderful person. 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.

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