How to handle those awkward networking situations

If your New Year’s resolution is to grow your contacts, get a new job or new clients, networking is one of the best ways to accomplish your goals. Yet, so many people dislike networking because it can feel so awkward. If you are one of those people, don’t feel badly. It’s hard to make small talk with strangers. But, networking is worth the discomfort. Here are some tips for handling those uncomfortable moments.

Breaking into Groups
Approach a group of three or more – two people are more likely to be having a personal conversation – and introduce yourself. I like to walk up to a group and say, “you look like a fun group!” I usually get a smile and then I introduce myself. Yes, it takes some courage, but you can do it. If the group shuns you, you wouldn’t want to know them anyway. But, I guarantee they won’t.

I also like to walk up to someone who is standing alone or who is walking through the room alone. I usually just introduce myself, or I might comment on the food or the speaker and then introduce myself – example: “Have you tried the cookie decorating bar? Who knew there were so many different kinds of sprinkles.”

Cornered by a Chatty Cathy
If your conversation partner doesn’t seem to need air while she carries on and on about the holiday party she attended simply introduce her to someone else. Or, tell her you need to freshen your drink (make sure it’s not full when you say that) and tell her it was nice talking to her, because that’s the polite thing to say even if it wasn’t.

Name Lapse
When that person approaches you and greets you by name, but you can’t remember his name, simply admit it. Say, “will you remind me of your name?” No need to apologize, simply get his name and carry on with a conversation. However, make sure you remember his moniker this time by saying it three times in your head and three times in conversation. Remembering people’s names is a wonderful way to be memorable to others.

When you Haven’t a Clue
If your conversation partner shares her life profession and you are clueless about what an information architect does rather than change the subject ask about it. This is the perfect opportunity to show interest in someone and learn something new. Say, “What does an information architect do?” or, “What does a typical week look like for you?” People usually love to talk about their profession or hobbies and will be pleased you are interested.

Trumped by a Phone
If the person you’re talking to is more interested in her phone then she is in you, politely excuse yourself (no need to tell her she’s got the manners of a cave man) and find someone else to talk to. You don’t need to hang around for a sliver of this person’s attention, the phone is obviously her priority.

Challenging Food
Its hard enough talking, shaking hands and sipping your drink let alone eating as well. Unless the passed hors d’oeuvres are small and easily eaten in one or two bites it’s best to pass on them. Definitely avoid the following items that are very difficult to gracefully eat

  • Bruschetta. AKA toasted bread with tomatoes or a spread on them. They always crumble and make a mess
  • Meat on skewers. Really anything on skewers is hard to eat without utensils. If you see those puppies on the tray just say “no thank you.”

Forgotten Business Cards
You’re ready to say goodbye to the perfect contact – the one that is interested in hiring you – and you realize you forgot your business cards at home. When this happens ask for the person’s card and then follow up by email with your contact information. It happens.

Hopefully you can avoid these awkward situations, but if not, have sense of humor, practice what you learned and realize it’s all part of getting out there.

Happy networking!!

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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