There's plenty of advice out there, such as head for the center of the room, be sure and greet everyone, and watch your entrance and exit.
But this is helpful only after you have some kind of foundation to work from. I'm afraid moving to the center room only helps someone who knows what to do once they get there!
I suggest baby steps, starting with going on a fact-finding mission. Here are some tips:
1. This can be learned, through study and practice.
Attend some events specifically as a fact-finding mission. Observe people who are good at this and figure out why. Choose someone who's at ease and gathering crowds. Analyze it. This means look at their non-verbals: their gestures, posture, stride, stance, facial expressions, and hand shake. Go over and interact with them yourself. This is the kind of person who will be easy to talk with and you'll learn a lot.
2. Figure out what you're going to do with your hands!
Sounds like a small thing but it makes a big difference. One less thing to worry about. Notice how poorly you currently do this. Is someone reaching for your hand and your purse slips off your shoulder banging against you? Do you have a drink in your right hand? Do they hang at your side, like orphans or flutter in breeze like frightened birds?
Observe who does this well, then practice in front of a mirror. Practice makes perfect.
3. Business cards.
Business cards are kind of the point of the whole thing. Be practical. Here's one idea: Wear a skirt or pants that have a pocket. Keep your business cards in the right hand pocket where you can slip them out easily.
4. Memorize some phrases.
As we know from Emotional Intelligence, when the emotions go up, the brain goes down. Therefore, prepare yourself by learning some catch phrases that encourage conversation. Generally they're open-ended, i.e.,questions that can't be answered with one word.
Examples would be: What did you think of that memo we got today; What have you heard about the renovation of this building; and I noticed you're driving a new car.
5. Use your EQ.
Prepare yourself before you go, and process correctly when you return. This has to do with what you are rehearsing, and we rehearse things along with their emotional component. If you tell yourself, "I do miserably at these things," you will. If you return and focus on all the faux pas you made, you are reinforcing this in your brain. I know you know the parts that didn't go well. Learn from them quickly, then spend a lot of time thinking about what went right.
6. How you say it matters more than what you say.
After all, no one's going to be explaining Chaos Theory at one of these things, and if you try to, eyes will glaze over. Work on your tone of voice. It starts with self-awareness. What is yours now? Likely high, anxious, and you talk too fast, or clam up completely, or combine it, blurting something out then freezing up.
On this fact-finding mission, listen to someone who does this well. How do you know they do it well? You enjoy being around them and so does everyone else.
Once you've memorized and practiced, you must move on to "spontaneous." If not, you're stuck. Get some coaching.
8. It's called "small talk" because it's small talk.
Don't get into any length discussions of anything important unless you get in a two-in-two with someone who's equally interested. Small talk means something not important and not controversial. Available topics are day-to-day things that are right in front of you, such as "Where did you get that pin?" "Do you like it when it's cold like this," "How was you day?" and "What are your plans for …?"
9. Don't take it personally.
You can only rise to the level of your co-conversationalist, and you need to keep in mind there are people at all levels. None of the tips -– small talk, open-ended questions, a lilt in your voice -– will work with someone who's clueless. It's not always about you.
10. Keep at it.
We tend to forget that we learned much harder things in life -– how to walk, how to talk, how to keyboard, and how to parent.
11. Learn Optimism, an EQ competency.
It's particularly helpful in "performance" situations, and that's what a networking event is. Anticipate the best, be curious, and expectant. Why? Well, why not?
Susan Dunn, M.A., Clinical Psychology, The EQ Coach. Executive and individual coaching, EQ-culture programs for organizations, Internet courses on emotional intelligence. Visit her site at http://www.susandunn.cc, and mailto:email@example.com for FREE ezine, "EQ in the Workplace." Please put "EQ" for subject line. Increase your EQ and everyone benefits.© 2006 Susan Dunn, M.A.
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