I have a good friend whose personality is more task-oriented than people-oriented and is apprehensive at business and social receptions. Rather than seeing these events as playgrounds, as I do, her instincts cause her to see them as jungles. Over time, however, I’ve watched her stretch into the following behaviors and have more fun. Here are five steps that can help anyone, but especially the reception-challenged, take the fear out of formal gatherings.
- Enter the venue with determination
The first step to having more fun is in entering the room. Take a deep breath and walk in with purpose. Avoid hanging back and waiting for something to happen. Unless you’re a movie star, a famous politician or just won the lottery, people will rarely come up to you and start a conversation. If you’ve taken time before the event to consider who might be there and who might be fun and useful to speak with, all the better. Try and convert “uncertainty” in your mind to “opportunity.”
- Identify a person of interest
Stop for a moment and scan the room. After locating the bar and food (always my first priority), notice the people. Usually there are clusters of conversations and some standing alone looking into their drinks. These people probably have the same personality and feel the same way as you … a bit awkward. Pick someone who looks interesting, avoiding the guy with the bolo tie. Don’t worry if it won’t be a perfect choice. You’ll know soon enough and can move on by announcing you’re going to get some food or a drink. Then find someone else to talk with.
- Approach and introduce yourself
This can be hard for some people. Take another deep breath and introduce yourself and add your organization. Pay attention as they give their name and organization, so you don’t fall into that Seinfeld episode where it becomes too late to ask their name again. Sometimes nametags and business cards can help, but looking people in the eye right away and giving them a big smile is the best way to get a conversation going.
- Ask friendly and genuine questions
People who have task-oriented personalities tend to talk less than those with people-oriented personalities. Those tend to talk a lot, sometimes even too much. Good conversations involve mutual interests, not just one person droning on and on and on (you’ve met this person, right?). Ask an opening question involving the subject of the reception, something you want to know about the other person’s organization or anything else except weather and politics. Then ask follow-up questions in a direction you’re interested.
- Relax and listen to the answers
The secret to having a good conversation and a good time at a reception is to ask questions and listen. If you’ve found someone who’s interesting to talk to, delay the urge to break off and talk to others. If they’re of your temperament, they’ll be glad to keep the conversation going. One good conversation is worth a whole lot more than any number of drive-by hits. I once singled out a bystander at a large gathering, started a conversation and that man offered me a great job two weeks later. What good thing could happen at your next reception?