June is here once again bringing with it its horde of cocktail parties, dinners and various galas. For some people, it’s routine, for others it’s torture. How can you transform these situations into unique opportunities to make yourself known, to expand your network (it can never be too large) and to shine? It’s not easy when you are not used to juggling a glass of wine in one hand and fabulous appetizers in the other (which are generally inedible for anyone with a normal constitution). A little training and a few basic rules are required.
Choose your events wisely. Unless you want practice I would advise you to select the most “strategic” ones. What I mean by that is those which truly correspond to your professional interests. According to the purpose of the event you will be able to evaluate whether or not it is relevant for you to be there. Ask yourself who will I meet there? What is my interest or potential by making connections in such an industry? My advice: If you are the shy type, take a “networking” pro along with you as a mentor.
Pay attention to your entrance. For some people, that is the precise moment when they feel overcome by the sense of anxiety of “throwing themselves in the arena”. Make sure that your business cards are easily accessible (women, dress with this in mind). Think about this little detail even for the big galas. I must admit that men have it somewhat easier since Tuxedo or not they will always have a pocket on hand. Note to designers, women need more adapted evening gowns…
Go straight into action. Look around you, be confident and smile. You will see that people will address you instantly if you have a calm expression and a smile. Never stay still and appear lost in the middle of the crowd. Find the host or the guest of honor and confidently walk towards them. Be brave! You will be surprised to see how much most people lack the nerve. In the worst case, go to get a drink at the bar (one drink will do…) to compose yourself. For those unfamiliar, forget the appetizers with sauce or ones which are too difficult to eat, in fact just don’t eat and drink Perrier! My advice: Walk around, circle the crowd and look around you all the time.
Introduce yourself. Don’t hesitate to interrupt a conversation and join a group. How do you break the circle? With simplicity and determination: Put your hand on the arm of one person in the circle to attract their attention. Look at the others around and say “Sorry to interrupt your conversation” then say “Mr. Tremblay…Jacques Bidule, we met at the last dinner, I wanted to say hello.” He doesn’t remember you but he probably won’t dare to say it and then you can introduce yourself to the others. If you feel that you can integrate into the group, stay. If not (be assured you will know very quickly…), take your leave, say “here is my card, call me when you get the opportunity.” Shake their hand while wishing them a nice evening. Pass on to the next group.
Present contacts. Introduce someone to someone else, start a conversation and once the two guests are fully engaged, if you have no more interest, say “Please excuse me, we’ll continue this conversation later, and we will see each other at dinner.”
Don’t hang around like a vulture. All these tips apply only and ONLY IF you do them in a natural and non-superficial way. Avoid fluttering about and leaving people mid-conversation because you think you have seen someone “more interesting.” When you speak to someone, look them in the eye and appear interested in what they are saying, it’s only common courtesy.
From the cocktails to the dinner table, 50% of the work is done. Often this is the ideal moment to exchange business cards. It is much easier (and more comfortable) to engage in conversation! “Oh yes, so you work at ABC, you are in charge of marketing well that must be interesting! How do you….” Even if it doesn’t seem the most exciting thing, everyone is happy to talk about their job or their company. You can also talk about the purpose of the evening, the good weather or even children, or the golf season…You will always find a topic of conversation with relative ease. I was surprised one day to make a business contact, who has now become a friend, with the person to my right who at first seemed rather dull (I won’t go into their job details but I did think that the evening was going to be a long one…). However, I discovered with surprise that this semi-retired person in his sixties was a fan of wine and travel and still runs marathons…which just goes to show we shouldn’t rely on our first impressions as a business opportunity can randomly end up with a chance encounter.