Wednesday, June 20, 2007

8 tips for talking to strangers at a networking mixer

Big Huge Summer Mixer - Was it any good? HECK YEAH!

OKAY - so I went to this mixer. Literally hundreds of people there - about the size of a royal wedding!

The idea was that ALL the creative organizations in Houston represent and bring their members to mingle. So, here are the organizations who hosted this summer fest: AMA, AWRT, ADCH, BMA, HAF, HDMA, HiMA, HPMA, IABC, OiH, PIGC, PMI, PRSA, TXMPA, WIFT and AD2. (Try saying that fast!)

Just want to give you an idea of the people I met in just a couple of hours of being there. I collected 22 business cards. (Of course, I didn't say goodbye until they had my business card in their hand.)

Some of the representatives include the following companies and industries: (in no particular order)

Advertising / Marketing
Graphic Design
Film/Video Production
Oil & Gas
News Media
Software Development
Project Management

Just A Few Companies I Met
Six Foot Studios
Lopez Negrete
Harris + Hernandez Advertising
Baker Hughes
Houston Chronicle
Morrison Design & Advertising
Radio Disney
Los Toros Films
JB Knowledge
Women in Film & Television

What's the point in telling you this? The point is, networking is absolutely critical! Can you imagine who else I would have met if I stayed longer?!

I stopped by after work for a couple hours, (first stopping by the Art Institute Portfolio Show), put the sticky name tag on my shirt and with a wallet full of business cards, I took a deep breath and started talking to people. (Drink water when you go to these things. The band was so loud forcing you to get face-to-face just to hear, and alcohol on people's breath isn't the most conversation-comfortable. Not to mention, you won't start sounding like a moron.)

So do you think you're good at networking? Many people use the excuse that they're shy or don't know what to say. Oh bologna! Here are my 8 tips for talking to strangers at a networking mixer:

1.EYE CONTACT (get close to them so they can see your eyes) comfortable distance is one to two feet away. Only after you've done this you can continue to step 2.

2.SMILE nobody wants to talk to someone who mopes - you're just not approachable -- tell yourself to get over it! Why is this so hard for some people? You're not gonna die. (Just make sure you didn't eat any spinach appetizers, or the like.)

3.SHAKE HANDS no wimpy, fishy handshakes. Be strong, even for the women. Don't kill the other person, they'll push harder! When you're shaking hands, be sure to give eye contact. Shake hands when you introduce yourself and right before you walk away.

4.SAY SOMETHING FIRST you should be the first person to say something, it's usually after YOU initiate the handshake. If you know you're not good at this, just memorize a few lines you can use at random. Here are some suggestions: "Hi, my name is Carla, what's yours?" or "Hi, I'm Joe. What is it that you do?" or give someone a compliment <- this always works!

5.COPY BODY LANGUAGE mimic their body language. Sounds stupid, I know. But once you practice this, you'll be a natural, and won't even know you're doing it. For example, if someone crosses their arms -- you cross your arms. If they put their hands on their waste -- you put your hands on your waste. Get it? Why should you do that? Well, it's a body language sign that says I'm really into you and care deeply about what you're saying.

6.EXCHANGE BUSINESS CARDS Exchanging cards is the most critical part of this. Isn't this the point anyway? You'll meet so many people, it's hard to keep up. A good rule (I'm making up right now) is to give your business card to the person FIRST, usually within the first 3 minutes of your conversation. Otherwise, you'll both forget or get distracted by other socialites.

If you don't have business cards - make some. You will find yourself embarrassed saying, "oh, I don't have any" or "I don't have them with me." This isn't professional. Keep a stash in your car. When someone gives you their business card, LOOK AT IT and say their name! "Mark, it is really nice to have met you."

7.KEEP IT SHORT Don't talk to someone for more than 7 minutes. Wrap it up and move on. Even if they seem super interesting, you're probably getting on their nerves. Just get the business card and go on to the next person who looks appealing.

8.FOLLOW UP Follow up with them with an e-mail to let them know you enjoyed meeting them, requesting to stay in touch. Ask them to join your professional network on LinkedIn or something similar. Send them an e-mail once in while and say howdy.

What are some challenges you have faced at networking events? Do you have any advice? Select the "comments" link below to post your response.

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