As a third of Politico’s beloved daily newsletter Playbook, Daniel Lippman spends his nights out on the town at some of the city’s most exclusive parties, looking for “spotteds” or the next story lead. We asked for his advice on how to work a room.
Don’t be afraid to be assertive
Since DC is such a networking town, I think people are less shy than in other cities. I would think in terms of the upsides and benefits to talking to and meeting new people, not in terms of potential downsides, because most people in DC are here to pursue their career and to meet new people, so you can gain a lot if you don’t have that fear of conversation.
Don’t show up to the party super early. Because it’s awkward.
Don’t be afraid of going solo
It gives you more freedom. You can do as you please and talk to whoever you want without thinking, “Oh, is my friend having a good time as well?”
….But don’t latch on to people
It’s not good to be like a barnacle. I try to avoid that, and having people do that to me. You shouldn’t feel that you have to talk to the same person you don’t want to talk to for hours on end. Excusing yourself to get a drink, nibble on some food, or talk to other people is totally acceptable.
Avoid the cliché icebreaker
I definitely fall in the trap of asking a lot of people “What do you do?” But you don’t want reduce someone to their occupation, so I try to be more creative in how I ask. “What are you excited about?” or “What projects are you working on?” can often get what a person does for work. Since a ton of people in DC are not from DC itself, you can often get at what their journey was like to Washington, just by asking, “Where you from?”
Expand your circle
Ask people, “Who else is here that might be good to talk to?” Then you can have other people introduce you.
Moderate your booze
It’s not a bad idea to have a drink in your hand, but you don’t have to drink constantly throughout the night. You don’t want to be known as the person who over-drinks. Then you might not get an invite back.
And your political views…
I think it’s important that people have friends from all different walks of life and political affiliations. It’s not good to stop talking to someone if they don’t share the same opinion on political issues. I’m not really a partisan, but if you know how other people that oppose your point of view argue, then it will help you make better arguments. For you to do that, you have to actually engage with people who don’t always share your same political opinion. I try to talk to everyone. I don’t really care what their political view is: I just like talking to smart, interesting people.
Don’t try too hard
You don’t want to be too social climb-y, or dress like you’re there for networking and meeting new people at parties. You should just be relaxed. That’s important.
And don’t forget it’s a party
I don’t think twice about, “Oh, why am I here? Do I fit in?” If I’m having fun at a party, then that’s the most important thing.
Remember the bottom line
There’s little downside in meeting new people. You can often get a new job, or you can make a good source, or a good business contact if you talk to new people. But you can only do that if you get yourself in front of them. DC is all about the people you know.
A version of this article appears in the November 2018 issue of Washingtonian.