How to Schmooze
We all find ourselves at one time or another--whether through work or social engagements--at a party where we know no one but the host. Here's how to network, meet people and have fun--especially when your job depends on it.
-Make the first step. Introduce yourself, mention how you know the host/hostess, and ask your fellow party goer how they know them. If you are a shy person, you can practice this with a friend or on your own before you go out. If it's appropriate, you can always compliment another gal on her outfit or hair (but honestly mean what you say)--it's a great ice breaker.
-Have a mental "go to" list. When the conversation lulls, have a mental list of things to talk about: a book you read, a movie you saw, a place you traveled to recently. Better yet, have a mental registry of questions you can ask: what do you do for a living? what does a typical day look like for you? what's your dream vacation/job/shopping spree?
-Get informed. I had the unique experience of talking with a state legislator for about twenty minutes the other night during a work-related schmooze fest. Lobbyists have to pay big bucks to get the time and attention of elected officials, and there I was just chatting away with him. He asked me for my opinions on education funding, unionism, taxes, and immigration legislation. It helps to be informed on subjects that may come up at the party (based on the nature of the event and the type of people there). Fortunately, I was able to give him my opinion without faking it...too much anyway.
-Make people feel important. Use their names. Ask questions. Take an interest in them, even if the topics they choose to talk about are boring to you. You will be remembered favorably and may even make a lifelong friend--or a really great networking opportunity.
-Talk shop--or not. If other people are talking about work-related topics, go for it. If not, keep your conversations informal and fun. Too much work talk in off-work hours can be a real turn-off.
-Do not, under any circumstances, get drunk. Know your limits!
While I think drunkeness is a bad idea, period, at least don't do it in front of a bunch of strangers, and especially not at a work event. I don't care how much fun the open bar is.
Now go out there and schmooze, people!