Dear Aunty B,
The first Christmas cocktail party invitation just landed in my in-tray. I always feel the same, dreading events like this because I feel so self conscious walking into a room with a whole lot of business people I don’t know. Yet I know I should go. I am always amazed at people who know how to network a room. They seem so confident and I suspect, Aunty B, that you are a natural and could give me some tips.
Far be it for me to blow my own trumpet but yes, you are quite right. Many have commented that I work a room with grace and aplomb. But let me confess.
I am self conscious too. And in fact everyone I know (except for our advertising director Steve Murray) is self conscious and although it may look like we can work a room, we all feel some anxiety…
Here is what I recommend. First change the conversation in your head because you are thinking this: “I am going to walk into a room with a whole lot of people who are going to studiously ignore me and I will have no one to talk to and will stand there looking like a shag on a rock which will be soooo embarrassing and everyone will notice.”
Instead you will think this: “I find people really interesting and I want to have some fun and good conversation. I would also like a few business leads. At this event, it is most likely all these will happen as I have things in common with the people at the party. And if none of the above doesn’t happen – so what? What have I got to lose?”
Second, plan in advance how you might introduce yourself. If it is an awards night you would offer your hand, tell them your name and ask them are they up for an award.
If it is a professional organizsation you could whinge about the parking or the wine (only joking – in fact that’s another rule – don’t whinge.)
When you enter the party, straighten up your shoulders, plaster a smile on your face and stride in. Don’t go up to two people in deep conversation. They probably will resent you barging in. Instead look for a group of three or four people and pick the one who seems to be hanging off the group a little. Remember your introduction? Now is the time!
Most importantly, be warm, enthusiastic and interested in the person. Do not stare over their head or let your eyes roam around the room looking for someone more interesting.
Pay attention, be genuinely interested and respectful. Make sure you can get to your business cards easily – and that you make a big deal of reading theirs before putting it in your pocket. Only hand out your card once a bit of conversation takes place otherwise you look a bit desperate.
If you are a motor mouth, shut up. Conversation is give-and-take, so let the other person talk.
Don’t bitch. If you want to tell a joke to a stranger tell it about yourself.
When you hit the end of a conversation and you want to move on, finish your comment, look in their eyes and say: “It’s been so interesting talking to you but I have to catch up with XXX. I’ll see you later.” And move off.
Simple. The old line about needing a drink doesn’t work as theoretically you should offer to get them a drink too.
When you want to leave, thank the host and don’t drag out your goodbyes. Just walk out.
If all of this is still too much, take a colleague. That way you can always open conversations by introducing Colleague to everyone. But don’t take your spouse to business functions. Likewise friends. It is too comfortable. It is far better to be outside your comfort zone as you focus better and try harder.
After all a little bit of anxiety is galvanizing.