From conferences to convocations, medical mingling can be overwhelming for people who aren't comfortable entering a room full of strangers for the sole purpose of socializing. If you've ever wondered what to do, what to say, or what to wear at a networking event, you're not alone. Many people admit they'd rather have a full physical examination than approach someone they don't know and strike up a conversation.
Having solid networking skills is vital for success, and you will gain confidence by preparing for events in advance. This seven-point strategy will ensure that you are armed with all you need to make memorable connections at social events.
1. Demonstrate respect for the host. It is a privilege to be a guest at an event, and your first responsibility is to honor the person, organization, or group that invited you. Show your appreciation by RSVP'ing promptly, arriving on time, and consciously choosing to be a dynamic guest. If you're not sure what to wear, find out. You don't want to be the one in jeans and a T-shirt when everyone else is dressed in taffeta and tuxedos.
2. Be interesting. If you want to have interesting conversations you must be an interesting person. You can do this by staying up-to-date on current events, both in and out of medicine, and doing some homework before the occasion. Check the agenda in advance and research the guest speaker, host, sponsor, or award recipients. Knowing these details will empower you to recognize people and initiate discussions.
3. Step outside your comfort zone. Most of us are more at ease conversing with people we know, which means we often end up not meeting anyone new. Summon the confidence to independently work your way around the room. While you're at it, introduce yourself to someone you've never met before and start a dialogue. If you're unsure whom to approach, simply look for a person who is alone.
4. Invite others to join you. People naturally gravitate toward those who are warm and welcoming. Display open body language, wear a smile, make eye contact, and always be ready to shake hands and introduce yourself and the others in your group to newcomers. We all know what it feels like to be solo at these events, so make every effort to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
5. Refer to people by name. When you meet someone new, use his or her name as soon as you can in conversation. If you forget the name of a person you've met before, ask for clarification. A gracious way to do this is to say, "I remember meeting you, but somehow I've forgotten your name. Can you please tell me what it is again?" To make sure others remember you, always wear a nametag (on the right-hand side) and have your business cards handy; many people remember better with a visual cue.
6. Turn "nonversations" into conversations. Most discussions at networking events are superficial and lead nowhere. You can change that by showing sincere interest in what others have to say. People love to talk about themselves, so invite them to tell you a story, then ask relevant questions and listen to their answers. Saying something like, "Tell me more about that," or "Can you give me an example?" will almost always lead to memorable conversations.
7. Have an escape plan. Knowing how to exit a conversational cul-de-sac can be your saving grace. If you need to leave a group discussion, simply excuse yourself at an appropriate moment. When someone has you cornered in a one-on-one situation, however, acknowledge that you were listening before you leave. Wait for a natural break, comment on a point they made, say their name, and move on. Try something like this, "It sounds like your research project is fascinating, Jeremy. Best of luck. Enjoy the rest of the conference."
Your final duty as a guest is to share your gratitude for being invited. Make sure to thank the host or a committee member on the way out, and follow up with a note of appreciation the next day.
Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility, executive etiquette and professionalism consultant who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect and create courteous corporate cultures. www.TheCivilityCEO.com.