For those who have never networked at a cocktail party before, it’s just a slightly less pretentious version of what you see on TV. Everyone is smartly dressed and standing up straight, exchanging dialogues about their company, the work entailed, and the business accomplishments over white or red wine and champagne.
The cocktail party is really just one example of a place that would require you to network yourself and your business. This is the place to bring your a-game in a room full of equally successful business professionals. You want to present yourself to others with confidence, not conceit. You want to ask self-assured without being boastful. Once you learn how to conduct yourself, you can take each party by storm and properly converse with other professionals.
I admit to feeling nervous the first time I went to a cocktail party. I was looking to network with other writers and find out more about their work. I wasn’t sure where to fit in, so my sister dragged me into a group of her writer friends. I stood in the circle nodding at what they were saying, more focused on what to do with my hands: one was securely holding my drink, but the other…should I put it in my pants pocket? Leave it dangling? Rest it on my hip?
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to take with you to the next party or otherwise professional event:
DO Focus on What the Other Person is Saying
As important as it is to talk to a prospective professional contact about your business, it is equally as important to listen, and not just for your own gain. Ask questions about their business or their accomplishments. Part of networking is to be able to have two-way conversations, even if it turns casual at times. Just keep going with it.
DO Talk to One Person for a Period of Time
It’s hard to really get to know someone if you’re drifting from person to person just to get a professional contact and market your business. This is borderline soliciting and ultimately reflects poorly on your business. Focus on one person until the conversation feels like it’s coming to a close. You don’t need to spend the entire party with them, but just enough time to have a polite conversation.
DO Follow Up on the Contact
If you are lucky enough to get a professional contact after networking, follow up with an email or a request on LinkedIn. You never know when or how this person will be able to help you in the future. Worst case, you end up forming a professional or personal relationship.
DON’T Just Talk About Yourself
Going along with Do #1, imagine how talking about yourself must look to another person. They are standing in front of you, probably wishing you would stop talking about yourself already, without ever getting a word in. You’re not running a booth at a job fair nor are you giving a presentation. Answer questions, but make sure that you are asking them as well.
DON’T Talk Extensively About Someone Else
This was by far my biggest networking mistake. At the writers party, I was so excited to meet novelist Simon van Booy that once I finally got the opportunity to approach him, I talked about my sister and her novel, even leaving the conversation to go bring her in. By walking away I lost whatever interest he might have had in me or my work. While name-dropping could be beneficial, don’t do it so early in the conversation. It takes away from you and your business.
DON’T Abruptly Walk Away from the Conversation
See above…whoops. This is a huge networking no-no. Even if you know you can’t see this person as a professional contact, walking away without any prior word is just plain rude. It’s okay to tell them that you’re going to find your friend/coworker/sibling/whoever you came to the party with. If you’re alone, tell them you’re going to walk around for a little. Offer your hand as a gesture of politeness, tell them it was nice meeting them, and move along.