Ever feel queasy about going to an event where you don't know other guests? Talking to strangers does not come naturally to many people, but it's important to learn to do so. Social events are your opportunity to make new friends and business acquaintances.
Here are some helpful hints for improving your skill at mingling. You may even learn to like it!
Before the Event
• Do your homework. Find out what organizations or groups will be represented at the event and by whom.
• Google the names of some of the people or organizations of the people attending to learn more about them.
• Define your objective for attending the event.
• Make a game plan, such as meeting two or three new people and exchanging business cards.
• Make sure you take your business cards with you; in fact, you should never leave home without them.
During the Event
• Employ good eye contact and a firm handshake. A smile is essential.
• Make sure you wear a name tag if one is offered, and take care that it's visible. Place the name tag near your right shoulder. Most people shake with the right hand, so the person you are greeting will naturally look at your right shoulder when doing so.
• When you are introduced at a business gathering, it's an ice breaker to say your name and your line of work. If you aren't introduced, simply go up to someone and introduce yourself, saying what you do. This makes it easy for the other person to do the same.
• At purely social occasions, it's a little gauche to say what your job or business is, or to ask another person that question. Instead, ask the other person how he or she knows the host. You can also say, "Do you live in the neighborhood?" Both questions can lead to a conversation that might reveal a mutual interest.
• Be interested in what people have to say by asking questions about what they have just said. The best topic of conversation for most people is themselves.
• Only offer your business card when someone asks for it.
• If you are able to establish an area of common interest with another person, ask him or her "Do you have a business card?" Once a card is offered to you, may sure to acknowledge it, then offer yours in return.
• Be sure to keep other people's cards separate from your own, so you don't given them away by mistake!
• Circulate! Don't get caught up in talking to one person. Remember your goal to meet several different people. To move on, simply say something like "It was lovely meeting you." If you've made a real connection, say something like "I hope to talk with you again soon," or "I'll call you."
• Never sit down while engaged in conversation if the other person is standing so you're both on equal footing. It's best to stay standing the entire time, anyway, so you can keep circulating.
After the Event
• If you didn't get business cards, record the names of the people you met and any notes about following up with them. You can do this on your smartphone and email the message to yourself.
• Write follow-up emails, phone calls, or letters to the people you have met, reminding them who you are and what your mutual interest is. Attach your business card to handwritten notes.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (Lisagrotts.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.