A friend of mine recently attended a swanky company dinner. Pretty. Big. Deal.
Wine was flowing and she was sandwiched between male co-workers more interested in discussing sports and kids than talking to a twenty-something intern.
In this situation, said friend’s wine glass overflowed a few too many times. Her night ended in a less than glamorous way: cab ride home early and a hangover for the record books.
[Note: this is an extremely intelligent, well-spoken, and savvy friend of mine. This just goes to show that even fabulous individuals can falter in networking situations. They are tough!]
Now, drinking appropriately at a professional event is a whole other post. But this one is about the art of chit chat. Being able to chit chat- not just about work or industry issues, but also your personal interests—is an essential skill.
How to Chit Chat
Here are some tips for keeping a solid personal brand under the pressure of a networking or company event:
- It’s ok to think about what you are going to talk about ahead of time. Any sort of networking can be thought of as a “mini-interview”, so preparation is important.
- Know what you like. This is essential when you are branding yourself. Who are you? What do you like to do? What gets you excited? How do you spend your free time? What makes you unique?
- Have an opinion. Most people do not like flip-floppers. Don’t shove your opinion at anyone, but if you are asked “What do you think about _______?,” be able and willing to give an answer.
How to be an Engaging Chit Chatter
- Be informed about current news, especially things that are impacting your industry. It seems obvious, but you have to know what’s going on to be able to talk about it. Use RSS—it is a wonderful tool. Read books as often as you can, too. Wow people with your knowledge.
- You don’t have to talk about your kids. You are a twenty-something, so you may not be able to talk about having a rebellious teenager or a mid-life crisis. But you can still bring something unique to others’ lives. Is there a great concert, art exhibit or musical in the area? Where have you traveled? Where would you like to go? Any new movies, music or funky restaurants you have enjoyed recently? Be able to start engaging conversations you can contribute to.
- Be interested in their lives, too. Talk about what interests you, but don’t be self-absorbed. Try and relate to what they are saying. If someone tells you a story about his or her kid, thinking about a cousin, niece or nephew can help you relate. I have a 10-year old brother, so I am often able to use that as a connection. Draw similarities between your lives. This helps people feel connected to you.
What other advice do you have for talking and networking with people older than you? Or networking in general?
Cassie is a May 2009 University of Wisconsin-Madison Ag Journalism graduate. She recently unfolded her passion for public relations during her short stint as a PR consultant for a Madison, Wis. area non-profit and is looking to dive into the field professionally. Find Cassie on Twitter, BrazenCareerist, and LinkedIn
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