You probably already have Tammy Portnoy’s business card.
In fact, she was likely at the event you went to last month. She was the one in the cowboy hat with the crowd of people around her.
She’s been called a networking demon, and it’s true. As a PR specialist at Buffalo Communications, a golf-lifestyle PR firm, she’s a pro at working a room and getting in touch with the hardest-to-reach people through any means necessary.
Last month she came back from SXSWi with a bag of business cards and Bumped with a bootload of new Twitter followers. Here, we ask her how she works her magic—and what advice she has for us introverts who need a networking boost.
When you walk into a networking event, what’s the first thing you do?
TP: I write my name, and my Twitter handle, as big as possible on my nametag. Then I locate the bar and get a drink—never a problem with loosening up, as long as you don’t get too loose. If I’m not there with someone, I scan the room and look for someone with a camera to latch onto, or a group that looks like they’re engaged in conversation—I don’t mind jumping in. Sometimes it’s best to start at the information table and just ask whom you should meet.
How do you know whom to talk to?
TP: Before I go to a networking event, I check out who is going. I figure out ways to make a connection and look at their backgrounds. I might have interacted with these people online or on Twitter before, but I may not have met them in real life, so I make sure I always put two and two together. Or I figure out who I know who they know—everyone likes a good game of “six degrees.”
Remember, groups aren’t always cliques. Especially at networking events, it’s totally acceptable to walk right up to a group and insert yourself. I just start talking to people. I don’t care if you’re the CEO of a company; so what? I still ask them questions. I don’t want to know your job title, I want to know “What do you DO?”
When in doubt, it’s always easy to ask people what they think about the food, or if there’s a good drink; that’s a good one to fall back on.
How do you make sure people remember you?
TP: Pay attention to the details about people (What are they wearing? Are they married? Do they have kids? Where are they from? Where did they go to school? Were they more worried about a sporting event than networking?).
It makes people feel special. When people feel special, they are more likely to remember you. In the future, when something happens, and you show that you actually remember them, they are going to make more of a point of remembering what you’re telling them this time.
Also, have a good business card—something memorable. Sometimes this means abandoning your stiff “official” business card for something more personal, and that’s fine (especially if you end up changing jobs).
If you want to do something creative go to moo. They’re affordable and you can let your personality shine. The most memorable business card I got was a beer bottle opener that fits in a wallet. I will always keep that around.
When I was freelancing and consulting, my personal business card said my name really big. Remember: nothing unnecessary or cheesy. Make sure it’s thick. People judge you on your business card, so if you’re a cheap-ass it’s going to show.
How do you follow up with people?
TP: I hate following up with emails. I advise making connections right then and there depending on your capacity. At a geeky happy-hour gathering, pull out your phone and bring out Hashable (the latest best app for networking on Twitter and creating a directory of contacts — it categorizes where you met them). Tweet at them or talk to them on LinkedIn about something specific you talked about so you’ll always have something to remember them by and link back to.
Is there a certain formula for how people should act at events—professional, personable?
TP: Out of everything I could possibly put into words, I think this is the most important thing to remember: When you’re doing all this engaging and talking, just remember to be yourself. Don’t be fake. You’re not there to sell yourself; you’re there to connect with people. Just because you’re in a new surrounding doesn’t mean you have to act any differently. Don’t be the person who is laughing too loudly or trying too hard. That repels people, just like it did in high school.
But make sure to have a signature statement. If you’re going to go to an event, it’s good to be remembered. It would be cool if you’re the guy always wearing the purple tie.
When I was at SXSWi, I had gone home to Houston beforehand and went to the rodeo, so I had my cowboy hat with me and figured, why not wear it? It’s covered in Texas country singers’ signatures and it got a little tedious when Yankees kept asking, “Who signed your hat?” But, without fail, people always recalled the chick in the hat. Sometimes it can burn you a little in the end, ’cause when I was without my cowboy hat there were a few times when folks didn’t recognize me at all.
Another great example is my boss Tom. He dresses a bit like a hipster, shops at thrift stores and sports skinny ties to dress up a pair of jeans. A lot of the golf guys refer to him as Bieber, but it’s definite that he sticks out at events as one of the best dressed and people will remember him over the next poorly put-together schlub.
But don’t rely on your garb: If you’re out and about to make an impression, make an impression with what you have to say, not with outrageous attire or wardrobe malfunctions. Nothing scandalous.
Where did you learn all of this—trial and error?
TP: I learned a lot of what I know about networking from bartending. You’re forced to talk to everyone. You get paid with tips for time and attention you give to people. It benefits you to remember everyone’s names and what they do, so when they come back you can talk to them about it and possibly get tipped more or at least develop that relationship. It was paid, on-site networking training. And I never knew who my customers were. Everyone should experience working in the service industry. You learn the ability to talk to anyone about anything.
Above all else have courage (and not just the liquid kind). Remember that everyone else is there for the same reason as you. Don’t feel awkward about approaching someone—it’s the whole point of the exercise. The best way to break the ice is with a question (not a statement). Ask someone about what they do or compliment them on their shoes and go from there.
And, oh yeah: Always be nice.
Tammy Portnoy is a PR specialist at Buffalo Communications and has been collecting business cards since she was 7. She wonders why you haven’t looked her up on Twitter yet.
- How to Ineffectively Network Online (hubspot.com)
- Why Hide your Social Media Presence? (businessinsider.com)
- Three Essentials to Creating a Networking Strategy (entrepreneur.com)
- How to Network More Effectively (vanessabrightsite.com)