Most of you are probably seeing your business socializing schedule ramp up and continue through the holiday season with receptions and holiday parties hosted by your firm, clients and other business contacts. Many of you recognize it as an opportunity to meet and reconnect with lots of new people.

However, it's also an obligation to do so. You can't just stand around by yourself or with a few people you already know. Apart from the obvious waste of an opportunity, that can also put a burden on your host who, noticing your isolation, may feel like he or she should spend time with you, or introduce you, etc. So, do your part to help make the event successful. 

Even if you're shy, you can contribute, and even enjoy it. Here are five things to remember when meeting people for the first time:

  1. Always be first to extend your hand and say "Hello," and offer your name. It sends an immediate message that you're friendly, and cues the other person to complete the introduction. If you're not good at remembering names (one of my weaknesses), make sure to say the person's name aloud, e.g., "Nice to meet you, Denise." Verbal reinforcement is a memory aid.
  2. Show you're a good listener by restating others' comments in different words. Too many people are busy thinking about what they're going to say next when they should be listening to what the other person is saying now. 
  3. Let others play the expert. People will be more impressed than if you try to play the expert. Ask "how" questions to draw out others' expertise, e.g., how did they first become interested in whatever they're talking about? Find something to be curious about.
  4. To build rapport, seek common goals, interests and experiences with those you meet. 
  5. Balance giving and receiving information. People dislike talking to someone when they can't get a word in edgewise. On the other hand, they also dislike having to do all the talking. Find a good balance. One way to do this is by adding a question to the end of your remark. That signals that you're finished speaking, and makes it easy for the other person to keep things going.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in a small conversation group where suddenly nobody is carrying the conversation, like we collectively ran out of conversational gas. It can be very awkward. Here's a reliable solution: Ask people to describe the most unusual job they've ever had. Since this is a non-sequitur, have one example to use to prime the pump and tee it up. Maybe make up a straw man, e.g., "I was talking to someone earlier who had a series of unusual jobs during college. For example, (insert a short example you're prepared with) then immediately ask the group to share their oddest job, or the most eccentric boss they've had. Everyone likes oddities. 

A few years ago I spoke at a law firm retreat, where the firm's tradition was to have all those who joined the firm since the previous retreat introduce themselves and describe their most unusual undergrad course. It was a lot of fun, and broke the ice for everyone.


5 networking mistakes

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