The biggest GOP party is now underway in the Sunshine State. Limited government tea partiers, gun-toting individualists, pro-life activists and defense hawks have all descended on Tampa this week.
So how do aspiring young campaign operatives network through the red, white and blue confetti? Here are a few pointers to show you the way.
The Ever-Fashionable Business Card: Even if you’re just a recent college grad or you’re in between jobs, click on that Vistaprint ad on your Pandora station or stop by FedEx Kinko’s and create your own business card with your personal information.
You don’t need a job or a title, but you do need your most current contact information to hand out, especially if you’re looking to make professional connections. Be sure to put on your Twitter handle or LinkedIn address on the card, too. However, I’d dissuade you from adding new acquaintances as Facebook friends until you get know them. Facebook is more personal networking than professional networking.
Know What You Want to Achieve: What are you trying to get out of networking at the convention? Keeping in mind your purpose will help you spend your time wisely and will help you choose the right people to meet. Are you looking to join a campaign or work for the state party? Then connect with the delegates from the places you want to go. Get on every email lists you can so you’re in the know (you can always unsubscribe later), and ask around about the right receptions to attend (there will be many).
Most importantly, always ask people who else you should be speaking to. If you’re not meeting the people you want to, finding them may be as simple as asking the people you are meeting. Some basic questions: Who else should I be talking to in this field? Are they here? Can you connect me? People love being asked for advice and most people enjoy helping others out too. A good networker will take you under their wing and introduce you to worthwhile individuals.
Get the Dress Code Right: This is especially important for women. Every year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), I see these pretty young things walking around in napkin-size miniskirts, Kim Kardashian heels and pearls. If you’re trying to look like office Barbie, dress like that; however, if you want to be taken seriously and make professional connections, drop the hem of your skirt, watch how low your neckline is, and keep the pearls.
You want to be remembered for being classy not trashy. And gentlemen, dress business casual. Ties are not expected, but think khaki pants and a nice button down, and please keep your shirt tucked in.
Remember Names and Faces: You are going to be bombarded with tons of faces and names, any you may be thinking how in the heck can I remember them all? It will be difficult, but by remembering someone’s name, you will stand out, especially when you run into them multiple times during the week. My suggestion is when you are introduced to someone, repeat their name to make sure you got it right, while looking them in the eye. This will help your mind create space in your memory for the person.
Also, find some piece of identifiable clothing or characteristic on that person that starts with the first letter of their name. Once your conversation is over and you’ve exchanged contact information, write that word on the back of the business card. This should help you remember them when following up.
Add to Your Network: The acquaintance becomes a connection when you actually follow up with the person and reach out after a convention. I recommend a handwritten note on nice stationary for those individuals you want to stay in the closest touch with. Email will suffice as a quality follow-up for most individuals, and especially if time is of the essence and you want to receive a quick response. When emailing, make sure it’s not a standard email that you can cut and paste for the next person you met, but personalize it and touch on some points you discussed at the convention. This is also why genuinely listening to people when you are introduced is of the utmost importance.
Another thing to keep in mind for young professionals in Tampa this week: “Would [whatever it is I might be about to do] land me on the front page of the Washington Post?” If the answer is yes—don’t do it! That should help ensure a successful and productive convention.
Sarah B. Smith is the vice president of the Young Conservatives Coalition, veteran of many GOP campaigns, and a nonprofit development professional.