You may think that your girlfriend was born a natural conversationalist. Or perhaps you are a little jealous that your favorite coworker is “lucky” to be so outgoing. The truth is, luck has nothing to do with it. Small talk takes effort, skill, and practice. A good conversationalist must do much more than simply make party talk, she must know how to put others at ease.
Whether you find yourself networking at a social function, a business event, or at a charitable fundraiser, here are etiquette guidelines that will help you put your best foot forward and build relationships with new people you meet.
1. Eat before you go. Have a light snack before leaving the house or office so your stomach doesn't growl louder than your introduction.
2. Face check! Before you enter the event, take a private moment (emphasis on private) to check yourself in the mirror – teeth, nose, eyes, hair. Avoid using the reflective glass window on your way in to the building. You can be sure that someone is sitting behind the glass watching you adjust your bra strap and check your skirt for static cling.
3. Hold only a glass or a plate of food in your left hand. This allows you to keep your right hand free for the customary handshake. Holding a cold, wet glass with your right hand ensures you will give a clammy and cold handshake. Avoid eating messy foods that require you to wipe off your right hand before a handshake. Stay away from sticky foods that will require you to clean or lick your fingers.
4. Make a confident introduction. Offer both your first and last name when making an introduction. Giving only your first name comes across as nervous and unsophisticated.
5. Extend your hand first. A handshake always accompanies a greeting or introduction. Make sure your handshake is firm and stable, rather than weak and shaky. You get one chance to get it right, and by all means, never ask for a "re-do"!
6. Remembering names can be tricky. So often we are more concerned with our own introduction than committing the other person's name to memory. Networking functions are a great place to practice our listening skills and name recall. One way to remember a name is to repeat their name back immediately after they introduce themselves. If you still find that you have forgotten, ask again by saying, "Please remind me, your name is?"
7. Ditch the sales pitch. Make it a point to make genuine conversation that may—or may not—lead to potential business at a later date. Nobody wants to get stuck talking to someone who is peddling their wares.
8. Make yourself interesting. Once you’ve exchanged names and learned a bit about each other’s careers, be ready with a list of conversation topics. Current events, books, movies, sports, and hobbies are always a great place to start. Walk into the event with a few topics in mind that you can use to hold up your end of a conversation. Study up on current events and be ready to make conversation. Listen 60 percent of the time and talk and ask questions 40 percent of the time.
9. Name tags go right. It is your responsibility as a good guest to oblige the host by wearing a name tag when offered—even if you don't want to ruin the look of your outfit. The name tag is worn on the upper right shoulder—not the hip, thigh, or on your purse—to follow the line of sight of the handshake.
10. Don’t spend the evening catching up with friends. Say hello to those you know, butmake it a point to spend most of your evening meeting new people and making new contacts.
11. Close the conversation gracefully. After you’ve spent approximately 5 minutes visiting with someone new, let them move on so you both can continue to meet other people. Exiting is as easy as extending your hand for a handshake and saying “It’s been nice talking with you" or "Good to meet you, I look forward to talking with you again”. Don’t make promises to call or get together again soon unless you intend to follow up.
12. Say hello and goodbye with the same gesture. In business, a handshake is the customary greeting and at social events, there are usually a lot of hugs being exchanged. If you greet with a handshake, close the conversation with the same way. If you both hugged as a friendly "hello", shaking hands "goodbye" will send the message that something went terribly wrong during the conversation.
13. Always let the host know you are leaving. It’s bad form to slip out the back door, find your host and thank them for the invitation. Make sure to tell them how much you enjoyed the party, even though you may have found it to be a bit boring.
Social interaction is anything but formulaic. But using these tips as a guideline will help you navigate social mingling and arm you with the gift of small talk. Before you know it you will be leaving every party with several new connections, that may turn into good business or even good friends!
(visit The Protocol School of Texas)
(Photo by Moss + Isaac)