Do you look forward to or dread mixers?
Do you seek out only familiar faces or do you feel comfortable introducing yourself to strangers?
While no one wants to be thought of as a schmoozer, some of the best business opportunities are initiated at social functions like mixers and receptions. These informal events can be pleasant ways to touch base with friends and colleagues, make new contacts, and “be seen” as an active member of the community. Here are a few tips to reduce mixer apprehension and help you make the most of an informal business event.
Before You Go
If you find you have little to say to people, do a little homework first. Research the company hosting the event or the purpose of the event so you can make comments and ask questions. Read the paper or watch the news so you know what’s going on around town.
Be sure to think about how you will answer people who ask you what you do, and practice a quick reply that explains who you are and what you do. Keep your reply to about thirty seconds; no one wants to hear your job description in detail unless they are applying for your position or planning a company takeover.
Do you know how to shake hands properly? Are you sure? You may be surprised at how many people comment on how other people shake hands. Make eye contact with the person whose hand you are about to shake and, using one hand only, grasp firmly (but don’t squeeze or clutch). Then it’s a simple straight up, down, up. Practice before you go if you aren’t sure. And make sure your hands are dry (not sweaty) and clean (a good reason to avoid messy appetizers). Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t offer their hand. Many people hesitate these days due to the “germ factor.” Don’t take it personally.
When You Get There
When you arrive at a mixer, it is natural to spend the first few minutes with the people you arrived there with or look for familiar faces. While you should definitely talk to the people you know, and, granted, this may lead to introductions, if you want to make new contacts, you have to move around. Moreover, if you have arrived alone and don’t know anyone, you must make an effort to mix. Take a deep breath, think positive, look positive, and, with as much confidence as you can muster, make your first move.
A good place to start is by approaching one person standing alone or a couple not actively engaged in a conversation. (Note: If the couple is actively talking, don’t interrupt; it could be a personal conversation). People at food and drinks tables and people looking at displays are other good starting points. Start the conversation by commenting on the event itself (or the food/drinks, display, presentation, etc), or simply introduce yourself. Continue the conversation by asking the other person what their connection is to the host company or organization.
Be pleasantly curious about the other person, but don’t pry. Ask them questions about their business and look for something or someone you have in common. Keep to general topics (weather, positive news, food, interests) and avoid personal questions (politics, religion, family) and negative comments. After five to ten minutes, wait for a pause in the conversation and finish with “It’s been nice talking to you.” If you seem to have a lot in common or want to learn more, exchange business cards and agree to continue speaking later on during the event or at a later date. Then move on.
Another option is to approach a small group and stand at the edge of the group. Watch their body language and listen to their conversation. You will be able to tell by their body language if they are having a closed conversation. If they move more closely together, you should move on. If they move to allow you to enter the group, this is your clue that their conversation is open. Listen to their conversation for a while and show polite interest. Make a relevant remark or ask a relevant question when it is appropriate. As the group grows, it likely will break into small groups allowing you to pursue further conversations.
If you want to build your networking skills and your speaking confidence at the same time, consider joining Toastmasters; there are several chapters in Greater Victoria. The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce (www.victoriachamber.ca), the West Shore Chamber of Commerce (www.westshore.bc.ca), the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce (www.spcoc.org), and Tourism Victoria (www.tourismvictoria.com) all host member mixers at various times throughout the year. Or you may consider joining a leads or networking club, like the Capital City Executives Association (www.cceavictoria.com), Business Networking International (www.bnicanada.ca), or Simply Networking (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Like anything else, practice makes perfect, and with networking, practice may lead to valuable connections that can help you boost your business.
› Bring business cards with you and keep them in an easy-to-get-at place so you aren’t searching awkwardly for them.
› Check your hair, make-up, teeth, and clothes before you walk into the room.
› Turn off your cell phone or at least switch it to vibrate. If you have to take a call, leave the room.
› If you have your own company nametag, wear it. At most functions, nametags are provided for anyone not wearing their own.
› Eat something before the event. Mixer snacks are not intended to be a meal and you don’t want to appear to be starving. Always avoid messy appetizers.
› Watch your alcohol consumption. Avoid drinking or limit yourself to one drink. You want to be at your best.
› Hold your drink in your left hand, and keep your right hand free to shake hands.
› Avoid crowding others. Aim to give the people you are speaking with at least 20 inches of space.