We’re halfway through summer. And there’s lots of socializing going on out there. Summer, in fact, is when I find the most overlap between professional and personal relationships. From BBQs, cocktail parties and conferences, to festivals — and the travel and partying that go along with them — the opportunities for socializing and networking really add up.
But if you’re like me, you hate networking. “Networking” is a dirty word, you complain, and you do it only reluctantly because you know it’s good for you. However, after doing it many times, I’ve personally learned that networking is not so bad after all, and it can actually bring you some meaningful, new relationships.
Here are my five tips to make the most of summer socializing:
1. Set a goal.
Whom do you want to meet and why? Your goal may be as broad as making new contacts in your industry or as specific as getting an introduction to one person you very much want to meet.
That’s why setting an intention for the event is important: It leads to more productive conversations. “Stop committing random acts of networking,” networking guru Kelly Hoey told Forbes. “Random outreach is not an effective approach to problem-solving; and at its core, networking really is about seeking a solution to a problem or challenge you’re facing.”
So, if you have access to the guest list, look at who’s going to be there, and do some strategizing. You’ll appear to be, and actually will be, smarter.
2. Play a game for luck.
Don’t know whom you want to meet? Try to get lucky at the party! Chances are, someone there will be interesting, helpful and profitable for you to meet. If you don’t know who that might be, there are games you can play to increase your chances of meeting the right people.
One game that’s worked for me: Before you go into the party, pick a color. Once inside, you need to talk to everyone wearing that color before you can leave. It sounds nuts, but it helps you talk to people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. You’ll be surprised at how it takes you out of your regular routines — and breaking out of routines is something that lucky people do, psychologist Richard Wiseman told Fast Company.
You can change the game to whatever you like, like making the effort to meet a set number of people you decide on ahead of time. So, go on! Turn off your phone and start talking.
3. Don’t talk about work.
Remember, this is a social event — many people won’t want to talk about business, which can leave you with conversation paralysis. “A real problem for introverts is how to start talking to people; they tend to wait for people to come to them,” Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University, told Motto.
Reset your expectations: Don’t stress about winning people over. The best opening lines are simple. Carducci suggests commenting on the situation you’re both in. Once the conversation starts, avoid asking, “What do you do?” and instead ask questions to find out things they love. Not surprisingly, people love to talk about what they love. What they do professionally will inevitably come up.
4. Slide into a group conversation.
There’s nothing worse than walking into a room full of people already chatting away, with no apparent break in the circle. Don’t wait for the absolute perfect moment, and don’t just barge right in; you can tactfully enter the group.
I like to approach someone I know with a tap on the shoulder, creating the opportunity for an introduction to the group. Don’t know anyone? Jodi Glickman, founder of leadership development firm Great on the Job, recommends the group tackle: a brief introduction followed by an immediate retreat. This introduces you to the group while giving them the opportunity to engage you with get-to-know-you questions or simply proceed with the conversation. If they proceed, listen and contribute later.
5. Follow up.
Now that you’ve put energy into making new connections, follow up. Following up after the event is key to turning these new contacts into meaningful relationships. After an event, I use Fin, the personal digital assistant, and tell it all the people I want to follow up with. It’s always proper to thank the host, and if someone other than the host invited you, be sure to thank that person as well. You know how they say it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed? I always err on the side of over-thanking.
The way you follow up plays a big part in how you want the relationship to develop. For someone I’d really like to talk to again, instead of the usual email or social network request, I send a gift. My company Token can help you find and send something great and relevant to that specific person.
Related: 7 Ways to Better Networking
However you choose to connect with new people and build your network, remember this: In an increasingly digital world, taking a step into the physical world for real live relationship-building goes a long way in helping you stand out and forge connections that matter.