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by Mary Crane

The following rules will help anyone successfully navigate a reception or networking event.

Introduce yourself.  Introducing yourself is the most important thing you’ll do at any event.  State your name and provide a descriptor, your own 30-second commercial that tells others something about who you are and what you do. Introduce yourself in a way that helps you become memorable. If you have a unique last name, know that you have a special advantage—you’re immediately memorable. Give others a clue that will help them pronounce your name. For example, my family name is RYCZEK. Before I married, I introduced myself by saying, “I’m Mary Ryczek, like check and re-check your work.”

Handshakes.  Unless you’re certain the other person you’re about to meet prefers a handshake, it’s safest to simply ask, “Do you prefer handshakes or fist bumps these days?”  If you’ve recently been exposed to anyone dealing with COVID, a cold, or the flu, don’t hesitate to say, “Everyone in our house is getting over a nasty cold, and I’d hate to pass it on. Would you mind if we skip the handshake?”

Arrive at the event.  Arrive on time. Once you’ve thanked the host or hostess for the invitation, go to the bar, get a beverage, wrap the beverage in a napkin, and carry it in your left hand. Holding the beverage will help you look approachable. Carrying it in your left hand will ensure your right is available for a handshake or fist bump. Avoid grabbing a beverage and food at the same time.  Always keep one hand available to greet others.

Use the Buddy System.  Whenever possible, attend receptions and networking events with another person. The two of you can then “divide and conquer” the room—one of you can go to one side of the room and introduce yourself to various people while the other goes to the opposite side and does the same thing. Halfway through the event, you and your buddy can reconnect and compare notes, for example, “I just ran into the CEO of new biotech startup. You should really meet her.” You can also pre-arrange a rescue signal for those times when you desperately need some help to exit a conversation.

Find an Approachable.  If you need to attend an event solo, and if you don’t immediately recognize any of the other guests, introduce yourself to “an approachable,” a person standing alone typically around the edges of the room.  They’ll welcome the conversation.  Don’t forget, at any event you never know who you’ll meet and the doors they might open for you.  Every approachable can become a valuable contact.

Nametags.  Always place your name tag on the right side of your outfit.  When you extend your right hand for a handshake or a fist bump, your name will move into the other person’s line of vision increasing the likelihood that others will remember it. (It’s estimated that 65% of the population are visual learners—people who need to see a name to remember it.)

Remember Names.  Beyond looking at someone’s nametag, LISTENING is the other key to remembering names.  When meeting someone for the first time, stop and carefully listen to the name and descriptor. Try to repeat the name immediately and associate it with something or someone else. For example, if we just met, you might say, “It’ll be easy to remember the name Mary. That’s my mom’s first name. And you said Crane, like the stationery company?” 

Break & Enter.  When you wish to enter a group conversation, approach the group and spend a minute or two listening. After another person in the group makes a statement or asks a question, take half a step forward and say, “Excuse me. My name is Mary Crane, and may I ask….”  At this point you have successfully become a part of the conversation.

Exit Conversations.  When you are ready to move onto another conversation, tell the other person how much you enjoyed meeting him/her and move on. This is the ideal time to ask if they have a business card or take down their contact information. Then grab a bite to eat, freshen your drink, and look for your next conversation.

Follow up.  Follow up.  Follow up.  After every event, go through the business cards you have collected, enter them into a data base (a personal spreadsheet or your organization’s client relationship management system), and send a quick email or call the three people you met who you’re most interested in building a relationship with. The one thing that distinguishes great networkers from everyone else is their commitment to following up with the people they meet and then staying in touch.

“The NEW Rules of Engagement” includes rules on making connections over Zoom and more rules for managing business meals, including what to order, what to avoid (if you’re wearing a white shirt or blouse, pasta with red sauce is an invitation to disaster), and how to always know which bread-and-butter plate belongs to you.