The golf course has traditionally been a favored spot for members of the proverbial Old Boys Network to hang out and iron out everything from billion dollar deals to backroom political machinations. For the rest of us though, it’s sometimes slightly complicated to figure out where it’s okay to network and schmooze and where business is always off limits. Even tougher is trying to understand how to segue from camaraderie to work to transitioning a conversation to action. For that reason, it helps to realize that unlike a meeting, there shouldn’t necessarily be a specific agenda to your networking- unless of course you’re at a networking event. And even if everything was intended to be fun and games (or booze) you should always follow up, if only to say “this was fun, let’s do it again.”
If you’ve decided it’s time to update your own schmoozing game, try to figure out not just the location, but also the kind of topics or small talk that might come more naturally in those spaces. We asked some expert networkers for advice on their favorite spots to meet or network and why.
Use your home court advantage
Dara Levy, CEO & Founder of Dermaflash, says that where you choose to meet someone to network says a lot about you. So make sure it’s somewhere you feel at home and a place that paints you in your best light.
“For business meetings, I prefer to pick locations that are casual, comfortable and upscale. I’m a creature of habit, so you can usually find me holding court at Hotel Bel-Air in LA or at Fred’s, at Barneys in Chicago,” Levy says.
Any “private members-only clubs, like Soho House” that you belong to are also great for networking, Levy adds, because “they are great for networking and increasing your global reach all under one roof. You never know who you’re going to meet.”
Tommy Kato, CEO of Merchant Hub, suggested talking business with people on your yacht. While that might be out of reach for most of us, his point is that you should talk business “somewhere that emphasizes your successes and passions” which will ostensibly paint you in a more successful light.
The last thing you want to do is to make the people you’re trying to connect with feel uncomfortable.
Along those lines, Kato also advises never bringing up “politics or religion with anyone, especially at the dinner table.”
Levy also warns against looking at your phone during a business meeting, though you’re probably fine to quickly scan during time with friendly colleagues. Try to limit it to only once or twice per hour or people will wonder why they bothered getting together with you in the first place.
When it comes to cornering someone in the restroom, it would seem like an obvious no-go. But just in case you think about trying it, consider this: A few years back I was at a political breakfast where D.C. luminaries chatted and made deals while munching on bagels and a schmear. While waiting on line for the ladies room, I spotted Hillary Clinton studiously avoiding eye contact. Though my first instinct would have been to say hello, I was saved from myself when someone else went to shake someone’s hand, only to have an awkward moment when the extremely uncomfortable politician mimed that she hadn’t yet washed her hands after using the facilities.
Despite all the intense business chats that seem to take place over the urinals in movies, in real life it’s just not a good idea to pounce on someone who could really use a moment of privacy.
Find someplace that you love
My friendly colleague Louise O’Brien is the Public Relations Director for the Langham Place in New York. She has so much enthusiasm for her hotel, its restaurants and lounges, that it’s infectious. Not only have I met O’Brien there for lunch, I’ve also started using the lounge area as a meeting place and lunch spot with clients.
When you’re in your element, it shows, whether it’s a comfortable and just-buzzy-enough hotel lobby or a wide open greenspace with a great view of the water or the sky. If you feel enthusiastic about the location, you’re more likely to connect to others who do too, and you’ll probably end up meeting extremely interesting people from different walks of life and industries.
Maximize your coworking benefits
While most people realize that coworking spaces offer a quiet private place to work, you might not realize that there are also usually loads of public events. Sign up for newsletters and updates and take part in scheduled events. If you’re not great at attending events, consider devoting more time to hanging out in the common area or lingering over a soft drink when you see interesting people chatting there. Networking doesn’t have to be torturous; sometimes it’s as simple as connecting with someone you already nod hello to on a daily basis.