You know that there are a lot of holiday parties going on when planning to hang at another one starts to feel like a burden. Even if there’s karaoke involved. This is what happens when bar associations seem to have forgotten that there is now newfangled technology such as email and phones that can be used to avoid scheduling their holiday parties all during the same one week in December. Yes, I’m looking at you, NY/NJ minority bars.
Networking in festive environments is kind of like opening a nicely-wrapped holiday gift. It’s out of the ordinary and there’s a bit of surprise involved. But as with gifts, you don’t find out until after you’ve engaged someone new in conversation whether it’s just what you were hoping for or kind of… meh.
As with many things in life, preparation is key. Preparing for cocktail schmoozefests is easy. Look your best — clothes, hair, teeth — looking fabulous will help you to feel more confident as well. Have an interesting elevator speech ready and bring lots of business cards.
And please avoid these networking blunders….
Arrive hungry. You’re a lawyer. You should be able to figure out how to feed yourself before the event. The five Clif bars stashed in your office drawer will do. It’s fine to grab a quick passed hors d’oeuvre during a cocktail party, but spending time searching for a full meal to consume during a networking event is a mistake and a waste of time (unless the gathering is a sit-down dinner). Juggling plates and forks is distracting both for you and the other person, especially when you have ten of each at one time.
Start with “What do you do?” as your first question. This is a pet peeve. It just irks me that many of us define ourselves and others by our jobs. Starting a conversation with this question also encourages us to focus less on the individual and more on their career status and how we think they can potentially help us. Instead, start the relationship with… just about anything else. Compliment them perhaps — “That’s a really funky necklace” — or ask them how they ended up coming to that event. Tell them that the booger hanging off their nose isn’t really that obvious.
Make it all about you. We’ve all been with someone who just can’t seem to get enough of himself. His unique talent is to turn every conversation thread back to his truly. Similarly, there are those who take the idea of promoting themselves a little too far and take every opportunity during the party to tell everyone about how great and successful they are. But networking is different from a pitch session. It’s about building relationships and making meaningful connections with others. The main goal is to learn about the other person and try to identify common interests. One person is not a common interest.
Constantly look around the room instead of the other person. This is such a waste of time (not to mention insulting to the person you’re with — oh, they know what you’re doing). Make the most of each interaction by staying focused on the person you’re talking to. Otherwise, your conversations will tend to stay superficial and be less rewarding. Also, the other person will probably not be interested in talking with you for very long. Or ever again.
Not know how to end the conversation. It’s rare to hear a great conversation closer, isn’t it? Instead, they generally make you feel like the other person wants to move on and meet other people. This is true even with the closers in which the other person is saying they don’t want to monopolize your time. I often use the “need to look for my husband” line, as it feels (and often is) more sincere. Another less awkward tactic is to bring someone else into the conversation and then leave a few moments later while the others are engaged in conversation. Needing to “refresh a drink” also feels like a more natural out to me. But in general, I find that good closers are hard to come by, so if you know of any, please feel free to share.
Fail to follow up. What a shame it is to go through all the work of being charming for an entire evening only to get butt lazy about following up. Shoot off a quick email or check if the new people you met are on LinkedIn, as most lawyers are. (It would be useful if LinkedIn had a feature where you could add notes to someone’s profile, for example, re: where you met, what you talked about, etc., so that you could use it more like a Rolodex. Anyone from LinkedIn reading this?? Please do!) If you can send your new contacts some info that’s relevant to them or relates to your conversation, even better. It doesn’t even have to be work-related — a link to a travel article because they had mentioned that they’d be going on vacation to Greece works just fine.
For some, networking can be pretty intimidating. Even for social butterflies, it takes energy to be “on” all evening. Despite all of the dos and don’ts that you read here and elsewhere, don’t forget to relax a bit and have fun! These are parties after all. People you meet will feel more relaxed and chatty around you if you’re having a good time, rather than if you’re nervous or stiff. (Just don’t have… um… too much fun. Looking at you again, certain members of the NY/NJ minority bars — I mean really — shirtless??)
Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company or anyone she works with. Susan may share both her own and others’ experiences (especially the experiences of those who have expressly indicated to her that they must not under any circumstances be shared on ATL). You can reach her at SusanMoonATL@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.