In politics, most opportunities result from a single, identifiable human being. Here are some practical and proven principles you can use to expand your contacts and create relationships that can help you throughout your political career.
1. Develop a Game Plan
The first thing to do before a networking event is to define your goals by asking three questions:
What am I trying to accomplish? Are you trying to establish new contacts for future job prospects, revitalize old contacts, seek advice on campaign strategy, or enjoy the open bar? Understanding your goals will keep you focused throughout the event. This is very important because we can easily get distracted by catching up with friends or, worse, by getting stuck with a Stage-5 clinger who insists on telling you about door-knocking for Ike.
Where do I need to be? Figure out which organizations or events will give you access to the people you need to meet. Is it a political party, nonprofit, trade association or chamber of commerce? Experimenting with different types of groups may open new doors.
Who do I need to meet? It’s important to research this before the event. You can usually request an RSVP list from the organizer before the event. Make a list of people you’d like to meet, or you’ll be shooting blindfolded all night long. Don’t get hung up stalking VIPs, though; it’s better to meet the VIP’s staffers, since there’s a more realistic chance of establishing a relationship with them.
2. Make Contact
In Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, he states, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” I understand this runs counter to typical political networking, where people have the tendency to brag and bloviate. When meeting someone, though, you don’t have to manipulate and you don’t have to be agreeable (especially if they are affiliated with another political party). You just have to care. After you establish a rapport, tell them a little about yourself and suggest a “let’s do lunch” follow-up. After you walk away, write any additional information about the contact on the back of their business card. This will be helpful when you follow up with them.
3. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up!
It is essential you enter the contact’s business card information and any notes you wrote on the back of the card into your Outlook, Plaxo or Excel spreadsheet. And if you want your new acquaintances to become part of your network, reach out to them that night or the next day so you don’t get lost in their pile of business cards. By sending an e-mail, making a phone call or sending a “nice meeting you” note, you’ve continued the line of communication. You’ve invested all that time preparing for the event; it would be a shame if you didn’t close the deal.
Christopher N. Malagisi is the grassroots coordinator at The Leadership Institute, a national conservative political training organization.