The Art of the Schmooze: Dos and Don'ts at GAs

Veteran GA-goers weigh in on the 'Jewish Superbowl.'

It’s the Jewish Superbowl. Every industry has its big annual get-together - and every November, it’s the movers and shakers of the North American Jewish world can be found in one spot.

For those who want to network, fundraise, or spread a message, the four days of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, known by one and all as the GA, are, quite literally, money time.

On the eve of the 2013 Jerusalem event, here are a few tips from some GA veterans on how to make every moment count.

1. Be prepared. Really prepared: David Abitbol, who has successfully navigated many a GA and written about ‘how to rock’ the event, says the odds for success far increase if you do your homework.

“Months ahead, use the Internet to create buzz around your venture. You are going to get a lot more attention if they want to know you. Bill your organization as important one, build a website that makes you look like a million bucks, even if you don’t have a million bucks. Interact online; follow the Twitter handles of the people you want to meet, find out what they are up to, what they are interested in and make sure you look like an expert in what they care about.”

2. Master the art of the shmooze: Virtual relationships only get you so far. The human encounters at the GA put a face on your ideas and proposals. “It’s the blitzkrieg of networking. You have to go in there with all guns blazing,” Abitbol advises.

Once you’ve got the ear of that key contact, be careful what you say, he warns. “Use the right buzzwords! Right now, it’s all about ‘Jewish peoplehood’ and ‘unity.’ And don’t forget to talk about “innovation.” Words to avoid? “We don’t talk about “continuity” and preventing “intermarriage” anymore; many of these machers have intermarried kids so that’s not cool.”

3. Plan your time carefully: Preschedule key important meetings, attend select plenaries and panels that are important for you, but allow plenty of unstructured time for on-the-spot meetings and general mingling.

“The sessions themselves are fascinating, but the real action happens in the hallways, and usually those informal encounters are the ones that really pay off,” advises Avi Mayer, spokesman for the international media at the Jewish Agency for Israel.

4. Show up virtually, not just physically: It pays to keep a close eye on the official hashtag #JFNAGA at all times, Elie Klein, a non-profit PR specialist at Finn Partners, notes. “You get great updates, recaps and ongoing conversations - it’s a great solution for the inability to be all places at once - and also a great way to find out about under-the-radar networking opportunities.” For extra visibility, he advises “hanging out with the bloggers.”

6. Dress the part: It never hurts to look your best. Even if the GA is in Israel, as it is this year, it’s no place for shorts and sandals. Inside the GA, it is North America, and suits are preferable. The one essential item you shouldn’t forget to pack? Business cards - the essential ingredient for networking - even in the age of smartphones.

“Make sure you have four-and-a-half times as many business cards as you think you'll need,” says Alan Oirich of Shalom TV, who has attended “an infinite number” of GAs since the 1980s.

5. Don’t forget to have fun: Comedian and writer Benji Lovitt has been to the last five GA’s in a row in various organizational capacities - and he isn’t sick of them yet. Not only are they a great place for him to book for his comedy tours, but, to him, they also feel like a camp reunion.

“It's the most fun thing I do all year; I see ex-girlfriends, ex-roommates, ex-bosses. The longer you work in the Jewish world, the more people you know at the GA. You literally cannot talk to anyone without being interrupted five times.”

And, he adds, unable to resist the professional urge to work in a joke, conferences like the GA are the one place in the world that it is socially acceptable for guys to stare at women’s’ chests, because “You’ve got to look at their nametags, right?” 

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