Our big summer client party is coming up soon and, though I’m ready for networking, I know that not all of my colleagues find it the most comfortable thing to do. Thus, here are five tips for those who don’t do too much networking on how to be an ace at it during your next client shindig:
Party like a professional – Even at a party, whenever you interact with clients, project partners or colleagues you do so as a representative of your firm. Thus, its advisable to keep a close eye on how much you drink so you always keep your wits about you. Work events are not a good time to cut loose. You want to be memorable for your sparkling wit and charming personality, not for your ability to pass out sitting up or swing from a chandelier.
Dress to make your clients comfortable – Nobody wants to be the one person in shorts and flip flops at a black tie party. Nor do you want to be the only one in a suit at a luau. My rule of thumb is to pay attention to how my clients dress on a day to day basis, compare that against the dress code for the event, and dress accordingly. That said, you’ll never be chastised for being just slightly better dressed than average but you might be for dressing down a bit more than is expected. No matter what the dress code, as long as you’re covered from your shoulders to your knees, you’re probably 75% of the way toward professional.
Keep the conversation polite – Yeah I know. Even if you don’t like small talk, try at least. Avoid talking about religion and/or politics. Don’t swear. Don’t complain about your work, your clients, your colleagues or your competitors. I find it helps to focus more on being interested in what others have to say than in trying to be interesting yourself. Usually safe topics are your kids/pets, vacation plans, hobbies, cool projects you’re working on our interesting changes in how business is getting done these days.
Be inclusive – Everybody gets shy now and then and most people, upon entering a networking event, aren’t sure who to talk to. Look around for people who are standing by themselves and introduce yourself. If they’ve just arrived, introduce them to someone you think they might enjoy talking to. If you’re engaged in a conversation and someone is hanging around at the edge of your group, widen your circle to invite them in and catch them up on what you’re talking about so they can join the discussion. If you don’t know anybody, walk up to someone, chat a while, then let them know you’re new here and ask them to introduce you to someone new and offer to do the same for them.
Exit conversations gracefully – Don’t be “that guy” at networking events who walks from person to person handing out and collecting business cards then moving quickly onward. If your conversation is not productive or you’re running out of things to say, let the person know you enjoyed meeting them and excuse yourself to get a drink or “powder your nose” or greet a guest who has just arrived. If you’re talking solo to someone, try to introduce them to someone new and let that conversation start before you exit so they’re not left standing alone. When in doubt, pay attention to how others exit smoothly and follow their example.
Networking is like anything else. Practice makes perfect. Even if you don’t love it, you’ll probably get to like it. Give it a try.