I tend to be a pretty outgoing person so I really enjoy meeting people in professional and social settings. Lately, I’ve had more opportunities to do just that. While attending these events I have run into more and more people who have told me just how hard mingling at professional or social events are for them. “I absolutely dread events like this!” one woman told me. “I am very shy and parties like this feel like work for me” another confessed. And another friend shared that while she is outgoing she always leaves feeling like she doesn’t do a good job of networking at events but instead spends more time chatting with people she knows and goes home feeling like she failed.
And while I don’t think of it as work, I have had my fair share of mingling faux-pas like the time I fan girled all over Tracy Ellis Ross and said all the wrong things-note to self celebrities are real people too, just like you!
And while mingling with all kinds of people might be easier for some than others the awkwardness or trepidation felt about socializing and networking effectively might be more of a universal experience than I first realized.
So, if this is something that you struggle with too here are a few things that I believe will make you a better mingler.
There are things that speak for you before you’ve said a word- this is probably a no brainer but I still think it’s worth including. Remember that your body language and facial expressions speak for you before you have said a word. Make sure that if you are sitting or standing your legs and arms aren’t crossed. An open posture makes you seem more welcoming. Also, make sure that you are appropriately dressed for the occasion. I am a firm believer that when you look good you feel good and I mean that in the most comfortable with yourself kind of way. Make sure your look is representative of you. You will feel much better and project that inward feeling out. Lastly I am a smiler but I know everyone isn’t going to walk around sharing smiles with everyone, just make sure your expression is relaxed and your eye contact is steady but soft.
It’s okay to join a group and be a listener-sometimes we are afraid to approach groups because we are worried that we won’t be welcomed in or we won’t have anything to contribute. Unless it’s some sort of sharing out session that probably won’t be necessary. There is nothing wrong with being a listener. Everyone doesn’t have to have the floor. Just make sure that you are nodding or displaying some other form of active listening (i.e verbal cues like Uh huh, I see.. or simply maintaining good eye contact). Remember that most groups are welcoming and if the one you approach isn’t it says more about them than about you. It’s perfectly fine to gracefully exit and find a new group.
Compliments are good but questions are better- many people like to start with a compliment and that’s not a bad idea as an opener as long as it is genuine. However, many times an appropriate thank you might be the only thing you get. After giving a compliment the onus is then on the other person to keep the conversation going. Asking questions tends to elicit more than a one or two word reply. And doesn’t force the compliment recipient to decide what comes next. Most people enjoy talking about where they are from, their passions, etc. So if you start with a compliment (again a good idea) follow up with a question and see where the conversation goes.
Leave your representative at home/be authentic- sometimes we are so worried about putting our best foot forward that we don’t send our true selves to these meetings. Everyone you are talking to is a person with their own vulnerabilities, imperfections and fears. Don’t try so hard to be the perfect version of yourself. I find that this often leads to “I wish I’d said or why didn’t I do”… and while these feelings might occur either way I think I feel the best about the good and even the bad when I know it was my truth. This isn’t about forgetting your manners or lacking professionalism it’s just about being real. People connect with the true version of you.
Don’t network, make connections- remember the Maya Angelou quote about people remembering how you made them feel not what you said. Seek to make connection not to pitch your newest idea or ask for favors. If the connection is there exchange information. You can always follow up later with a more formal business request or idea. The people I have worked with following an event are typically those who I had the best conversations with that had nothing to do with work. They’re more likely to remember you when you send that follow up email as well. Don’t be afraid to insert something that you remember from the convo either “I hope you enjoyed your trip to…. I wanted to follow up with you about an idea I believe you may have some interest in…..”
And an as a bonus tip- if someone makes a comment that makes you feel uncomfortable or offends in any way once again remember that people will remember how you handled the remark more than they will remember what you did or did not say. Take a deep breath, try to hear what the person is trying to convey. I believe that most people do not have malicious intents behind their comment but instead, they may struggle to articulate well what they are trying to convey.
Try to look for commonality and whether or not you agree with their statement start with “What I heard you say was… and give them an opportunity to clarify.” If clarity doesn’t come you can always say “My perspective is a little different. Here is what I believe…” Remember it is okay to have differences in opinion and professional and social settings aren’t the time for squabbling over said differences. Take the high road and excuse yourself from the conversation if you can’t agree to disagree.
Those are my tips for helping you mingle like a boss. I’d love to hear what your go-to mingling tips are in the comments below!
Until next post,
xo Tonya Parker
*photos above were taken at the Palm Springs Chico’s store cocktail party during Fashion Week.