If the thought of meeting new people at a business event worries you, you’re not alone. You may think that other people are lucky to be “natural conversationalists”. The truth is that small talk takes effort, skill, and practice. A good conversationalist must do much more than make small talk. He or she must know how to put others at ease. Mingling is a vitally important business skill. It demonstrates that you are a friendly, open, and engaged person who is interested in other people. Business is, in large part, who you know or who knows you. Social business events are the perfect opportunity to network and build business relationships. To feel more at ease at your next event, consider the following social business mingling tips.
** Be prepared before you attend any business or social event where mingling is “on the menu”. Have an idea of who will be there by name, position, profession, interest, or expertise. Think about what you might have in common with these people. Plan ahead with a mental list of possible topics of conversation you can draw on, that will be of mutual interest.
** To meet and greet; make eye contact, smile, shake hands firmly, and say hello. Introduce yourself with your first and last name, and if appropriate, state your relationship to the host. Giving only your first name comes across as nervous and unsophisticated. A firm handshake demonstrates confidence and decisiveness. The limp handshake conveys nervousness or lack of confidence. Always place your drink in the opposite hand so that you don’t offer a wet handshake.
** Remembering names can be tricky. So often we are more concerned with our own introduction than remembering the other person’s name. One way to remember their name is to say it back immediately, after they introduce themselves. If you still find that you have forgotten, ask again by saying, “Please remind me, your name is…?”
** Regarding appropriate dress, it really depends on the type of event. Don’t hesitate to ask others what they will be wearing to the occasion. If unsure, it’s better to err on the side of more conservative and dressy.
** Don’t use nicknames. Listen to how people introduce themselves and follow their lead. Ask permission before shortening a name or trying out a nickname, just in case it’s not appreciated. Nicknames such as “sweetie” or “honey” are never appropriate in a business setting.
** Name tags should be worn in the other person’s line of vision. It should be on the right, close to the shoulder. When you extend your right arm to shake hands, the eye is automatically drawn to that area.
** Give and receive business cards respectfully. When a business card is offered to you, hold it respectfully and look at it before putting it away. Feel free to make a positive comment about their card or position. When offering your business card, present it so it can be read, with the printing facing the person receiving the card. An exchange of business cards follows a conversation, not at the beginning.
** Approach people standing on their own, or groups of three or larger. When approaching a group of two, you may be interrupting a private conversation, and it could become awkward and uncomfortable.
** Maintain eye contact with those you are conversing with. Don’t scan the room, looking for others to talk to.
** To initiate dialog, simply make eye contact and say “Hi, how are you?” Have some interesting questions or comments to follow up the introduction, so the conversation doesn’t reach a stalemate.
** As you circulate the event, make sure you politely excuse yourself from each conversation. It is acceptable to explain that there is someone in the room with whom you need to catch up. It’s normal to end a conversation after 3 to 8 minutes. If you want to talk longer, that means you’ve connected and that you want to connect again. Follow up the next day to continue the relationship.
** Say hello and goodbye with the same gesture. If you greet with a handshake, close the conversation with one as well. If you both hugged as a friendly “hello”, be sure to hug again for a goodbye. In that case, a handshake would send the wrong message that something went wrong during the conversation. Leaving a conversation often occurs with a comment such as “It’s been nice talking with you” or “Good to meet you. I look forward to talking with you again”. Don’t make promises to call or get together again soon unless you fully intend to do so.
** Don’t spend the time catching up with friends. Greet the people you know, but make it a point to spend most of the time meeting new people and making new contacts.
** Once you’ve exchanged names and learned a bit about each other, be ready with a mental list of conversation topics. These can include things such as current events, books, movies, sports, the industry you are in, hobbies, etc. Study up on current events and be ready to make conversation.
** Listen 60% of the time and talk 40% of the time. If you only listened and add nothing to the mix, you will lose the opportunity to establish a connection. People want to get to know you as well before they do business with you.
** A healthy conversation includes observing, asking questions, and revealing. If you ask too many questions, you’re being invasive, not curious. Avoid topics like politics, religion, sex, or money. Stay away from anything personal or controversial.
** If you are sitting when someone approaches you, show respect and interest by standing and greeting them.
** Have a clear, brief, and interesting answer when asked about yourself and what you do. Think in terms of the benefits you provide rather than a job title or mission statement. If someone mentions an issue they are having and you have an idea or solution, feel free to humbly offer solutions. It will give you a chance to showcase your value and ideas.
** If you say you are going to do something (i.e. Follow up with that person), be sure to do so, and do it in a timely manner.
** Don’t overindulge. Your behavior is a reflection of you, and staying sober can keep you from saying things you will regret later.
** If appropriate, let the host know that you are leaving. It’s impolite to slip out the back door. Find the host and thank him/her for the invitation. Be sure to tell them how much you enjoyed the event/party.
Social business mingling is an art and can take some time to develop. Most importantly, just try to relax and have fun. After all, enjoying oneself is essential to mingling well.