I’ve always been comfortable speaking in front of large groups, but not as at ease in small business social settings.
Cocktail functions have a different feel about them than other business networking events. At cocktail functions, the atmosphere is relaxed and more social than strictly business. This, however, does not mean that standard business etiquette should go out the window.
So, I have worked at improving my skills. As I’ve started a blog series on personal interactions, here are some ways to make sure the drinks are diluted and not your networking!
These 5 tips are from Kim McGuinness, co-author of Network or Perish. She is also founder of Network Central and the Businesswomen’s Breakfast Series. Network Central provides networking and support for businesspeople in most areas of their busy lives.
1. Make an effort to enjoy the event
Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation – people really do enjoy being spoken to! If you need help, read the newspapers and a few business magazines to develop a bank of conversation topics, but steer clear of religion, politics and other potentially controversial subjects. You could even create an “oh really?” file with interesting stories about business, science and general interest. Look for articles that people will enjoy hearing or be fascinated by and want to tell others.
2. Know what it is you actually do!
This may sound silly but at a cocktail function conversations are mostly short and sometimes difficult to hear. Understand how to describe yourself, your business or position in a brief, concise statement – this is sometimes called an elevator statement because it is short and concise enough for you to deliver between floors in an elevator. Memorise your elevator statement so that when that all-important question arises, “So, what do you do?” – you are armed and ready.
Try to phrase this in terms of what benefit you deliver – rather than just what you do: for example, Susan manages the sales department of an office machine company. Instead of simply saying, “I manage the sales department of an office machine company”, she might instead say, “I am responsible for providing time-saving solutions for small and medium businesses,” or, “My team and I are responsible for saving our clients time through automation and systems” – certainly has a different ring to it, doesn’t it? A benefit-focused statement such as this also encourages further conversation and prompts the obvious next response, “Really, tell me more about that…”
3. Learn how to move on politely
Know when to back off with integrity. Follow your instinct – if you meet someone who doesn’t feel right to you, politely excuse yourself and move on. Networking is about creating valuable, meaningful and honest associations, don’t force yourself to make friends with someone you don’t like or trust. There is no need to share your opinion of that person with others – just move on discretely.
If you need to exit a situation you can do so politely and respectfully by saying thank you to that person for a great conversation and that you don’t want to take up any more of their time at the event. Then shake their hand confidently and move on. Alternatively you can simply mention that you need to speak to a few more people before you leave and thank them for their time. Ask for business cards if you really want to stay in contact, don’t wait for an offer and only ask if you intend on staying in touch.
4. Respect the network and the speaker
During my career as an event manager I have seen more drunk people at events than I care to remember. It is never a good look. Having too much to drink at an event can not only damage your reputation, it can damage your business. People rarely forget and will not only never deal with you again, they might tell everyone they know never to deal with you either.
Stick with the orange juice or sit on one glass of champagne (or mineral water in a champagne glass) and use the social, easy atmosphere of the cocktail function to really connect with people on both a business and a social level.
Listen to the speaker if there is one and if you have a question don’t be afraid to ask it. Everyone in the room will see you and if you say your name and company name before you ask the question they will also know who you are. If there is no opportunity for questions, approach the speaker personally after the presentation. Speakers are just people too and they are usually very approachable and grateful for feedback.
5. Know when to leave
Keep an eye on the time and leave at the time that the event is scheduled to finish. Offer to help the organisers move stragglers to the bar area – I am sure they will be eternally grateful and will remember who you are which is always a good thing. The organiser is the pivotal point of contact for the network. Send the organiser a thank you note the next day and your contact details for future events.