Ah, the holiday season. In addition to the usual networking events and industry conferences, there’s the year-end cocktails and company parties chockful of opportunities to socialize, re-connect and talk shop.
Most people will take a casual approach and flit through the season’s festivities, chugging eggnog and scarfing down hors d’oeuvres. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to capitalize on this goldmine of opportunity to connect and bond with the people who could be important catalysts for your career or business.
If there’s anyone who knows how to determine a goal and achieve it, it’s a Navy SEAL. Emulate them and you’ll take your networking to the next level. Here’s how:
1. Identify your target.
A Navy SEAL never goes into a mission playing it by ear – he always has a clear, definable target.
Review the RSVP or guest list (many events have online sign-ups so you can see in advance who’s coming). Pick three people you want to connect with — e.g. someone you know well, someone you’d like to get to know better, etc. If you don’t know who’ll be there, determine what general type of person you’d like to meet (e.g. a potential investor or vendor, etc.) so that your internal radar can be on the alert.
2. Do reconnaissance.
Before a SEAL sets off on a mission he goes through extensive preparation. He gathers as much intel on his target and the surrounding environment as possible, and anticipates various scenarios that could play out.
You need to do the same. Before each event, take time (even just 15 minutes) to prepare your plan of attack. Review your targets’ activities on social media like Linkedin or Twitter (use an app like Prepwork.com) and take a look at their website for relevant blog posts or press mentions.
3. Lock and load.
Though it literally means to prepare your weapon, “lock and load” also represents a state of mind: SEALs never know when they’ll be called into action – they have to be ready to perform at a moment’s notice. And they spend an inordinate amount of time training to be ready.
For you too, opportunities will come in unexpected situations without advance notice – maybe riding up in the elevator to the event with a senior executive at your company or waiting at the coatcheck. You need to be ready to give your elevator pitch or describe the highlights of your latest project without hesitation. So, no winging it: Practice speaking in front of a mirror or, even better, with a video camera until you project absolute confidence and authority.
4. Observe and orient.
These are the first two steps of the OODA loop, a mental model used in the military for rapid, on-the-fly planning and decision-making.
Before he can make a decision and take action, the Navy SEAL needs to use all his senses – as well as his gut intuition – to observe and discern subtle clues in his environment, and then process and analyze the information.
What about you — are you in a breathless rush, finishing a call on your cell even as you walk into an event? That approach will ensure that you’re off balance, in reactive mode. Instead, take 30 seconds to pause outside, orient yourself and scan the room (for your potential targets, natch).
Then, focus on being present. If you’re constantly distracted, texting or checking email, you might very well miss some subtle but important clues: that quick exchange between the managing director and your rival colleague, for example, or your client’s uncomfortable body language when you ask about their new president.
5. Override the fight-or-flight response.
Come on, you think Navy SEALs don’t experience fear when jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet into enemy territory? The difference is, they’re not stopped by it.
So stop hiding by the dessert table – feel nervous about approaching the big-name investor or managing director, and do it anyway.
6. Do a debrief.
After a mission, SEALs make sure everything they noticed and learned has been evaluated and shared with the right people.
Likewise, you should aim to do a recap after every event: take note of who you met, what salient information you learned about them (personal as well as professional), the potential biz opportunities, and how you’ll follow-up.