Some travel professionals are natural extroverts and have no problem mixing in a group and participating in conversation. At the other end of the spectrum are the functional introverts, like myself, who are good listeners, but for whom gatherings of more than three people start to feel claustrophobic! Both groups and everyone between, however, would do well to spend just a bit of time considering how to best hone their conversational skills and planning aspects of their networking strategy as it pertains to mixing at networking events.
Prior to attending, spend some time researching the context of the gathering. If it is a business group, research and study local business issues. If it is an open house at an animal shelter, you are hopefully there because you first love animals and secondly have a few animal stories to share. If the gathering is a high-school basketball game, know something about the team, the players, the coach and the schools.
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If new to the group, locate a sponsor and gently leverage their familiarity with the setting. Be approachable by smiling and easily offering your handshake. Remember the best conversationalists are great listeners. They look at the person speaking and empathetically engage their counterparts. By showing a genuine and authentic interest in others, by asking open, leading questions, you can make socializing in a networking situation much more comfortable.
Keep energy flowing to others and watch the results. Instead of immediately saying “Here’s my card” and proffering your own, ask for the other’s card during conversation and briefly study it. Then hand them your own. Ask about their company and what they do. Place the ball in their hands and let them speak. Think quality. Don’t look “hungry”! You will scare off all the rabbits.
Stay away from divisive topics. Why risk alienating 50% of the population by immediately launching into a discussion of left vs. right, politicians and personalities? There will be plenty of time for such commiserations in a more personal setting. Likewise, avoid off-color humor and anything impolite or ill-considered. Leave those topics to others. Think nice.
Finally, know how to speak about your own profession and passions. What are you? A travel agent? A travel professional? An escape artist? Prepare. Don’t be caught off-guard by ill-educated responses. When your own time comes to describe “what you do” seize the moment gracefully and intelligently. That will be your moment and a bit of preparation will largely determine the success or failure of your networking efforts.