How to be professional at a social event: unanswered questions

The professional landscape has changed in many ways since the days of our parents’ entry-level jobs, but one thing has remained constant. Social gatherings still serve as a great environment to do business, especially in the communication field. As a matter of fact, a mixer or networking event might be the best environment to do business and compromise over a drink.

There are basic tips of how to behave professionally at a social event, but there are some less frequently answered questions that students have on the subject. This being said, here are some answers to questions students might have for navigating a social event as well as a seasoned professional would.

How do I introduce myself?

-A handshake should begin your introduction. When you introduce yourself make sure to not only state your name, but your title in relation to the event. If that title is simply Marketing Student at UCF, that’s fine. Just try to provide a frame of reference or connection. Worst case scenario is they forget your name, but remember your title. Best case scenario is they are somehow connected to what you do/who you are and you’ve broken the ice to begin meaningful conversation.

How do you end a conversation to speak to another person?

-Have an idea of how long a person might be able to speak before approaching them. At a networking event go with the shortest time you can think of because everyone is there to mix and mingle within a short time period. This allows you to be conscious and on the lookout for signs that they want to wrap up speaking, thus eliminating any awkwardness that could occur. If the person wants to speak more that’s perfect, but if not you will be conscious of the social cue that they want to end the conversation.

You can simply end the conversation by saying, “Well it was nice meeting you” extending your hand for a handshake, asking for a business card or all three. These are all recognized social cues to end a conversation and no one will be offended. A more blunt way to end the conversation is plainly asking to be excused from the conversation and following up with, “It was nice speaking with you.” For example, “Will you excuse me? I see someone I’ve been meaning to speak with.”

How do I approach someone if they are already engaged in conversation?

-If a professional is engaged in a serious one on one conversation let them have that time and continue to mingle. However, keep your eye on them so that you can approach them once they are free.

-If they are engaged in a group conversation you have options:

  1. Approach the group and have a mutual contact introduce you.
  2. You could be very direct and join the group if it seems open to having others join in. In this situation it’s always nice to introduce yourself as previously discussed.
  3. Stand nearby and join when the conversation shifts to a subject you can weigh in on. This is supplemented by an introduction like, “Sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing…”

If there is alcohol, do I drink?

-If you are under the legal age to drink, do not consume any alcohol.

-If you are of legal drinking age it is polite to have a drink, but be aware of how much alcohol will inebriate you. To be safe, try simple tactics like sipping slowly or having a two drink limit in order to control the amount you consume.

-Playing it extra safe is also an option. Go to the bar and order cranberry juice or a soft beverage like coke that can masquerade as an alcoholic mixed drink. You’ll still fit in, but you won’t risk becoming intoxicated.

Closing Tips

-Keep in mind that although it is a social setting, you are a student and your first impression matters even more. Maintain a professional demeanor even if some professionals aren’t. It’s better to be safe and professional than to overstep bounds and be sorry later.

-Avoid looking at your phone. If you absolutely must check your phone for more than a quick second, excuse yourself by stepping outside or to the bathroom.

– When shaking hands, do so with your right hand. Grasp firmly, but not to aggressively. A rule of thumb is to grasp as firmly as you would a doorknob.

-Hold your drink with your less dominant hand so that when you shake hands with a professionals your hand will not be cold.

-Dress appropriately. If you’re unsure of the dress check the invitation for the dress code. Still unsure? Always reasonably dress to impress.

-Indicate that you are interested in conversation by maintaining eye contact. Keep a comfortable distance between you and that person (a little less than an arm’s length) as to respect their personal space, but not seem too detached. Casually nodding in agreement also helps you to display interest in the conversation.

All in all, don’t be intimidated by the grace of professionals at social gatherings. They are there for the same reason you are, to network. They have also learned the art of networking by attending numerous social gatherings. Follow this example and make a concerted effort to attend events and learn as much as you can by studying others’ behavior. Among all the advice in this post, this is the most sage I can offer.

– Xenecia Farrell

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