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Well Said!

Five Ways to Network at a Barbecue and Not Get Burned

By Mike O'Horo

As invitations begin to roll in for social events this post-pandemic summer, here’s a refresher from “coach” Mike O’Horo on how to handle yourself when you meet someone for the first time — or after a long time. 

As summer approaches, social schedules ramp up with graduation parties, barbecues, golf outings, baseball games and the like. At least some of these will be hosted by your firm, clients and other business contacts. It’s an opportunity to meet and reconnect with people.

However, it also entails an obligation to do so. You can’t just stand around by yourself or with a few people you already know. Apart from the obvious waste of an opportunity to network, that can put a burden on your host who, noticing your isolation, may worry that you’re not having a good time, or feel like he or she should spend time with you, or introduce you around. So, do your part to help make the event successful.

Remember These Tips for What to Say When You Meet Someone for the First Time

Even if you’re shy, you can contribute to social occasions, and even enjoy it. Here are five things to remember when someone for the first time.

1. Be first to say “Hello,” and offer your name.

It sends an immediate message that you’re friendly, and cues the other person to complete the introduction. If you’re not good at remembering names (one of my weaknesses), make sure to say the person’s name aloud. (“Nice to meet you, Denise.”) Verbal reinforcement is a memory aid. If you’re really bad at it (like me), you can create your mnemonic right there, aloud, and acknowledge what you’re doing. “I’m really bad at names, so bear with me. ‘Denise with the cool red sandals. Denise with the cool red sandals.’” Just make a joke out of your need to repeat in order to remember. Most people will be flattered that you’re making a real effort to remember their name. I’ll bet you that, when you bump into Denise later at the event, she’ll help you out, offering “Denise with the cool red sandals.”

2. When meeting someone new, show you’re a good listener by restating others’ comments in different words.

Too many people are busy thinking about what they’re going to say next when they should be listening to what the other person is saying. Use phrases like, “So, if I understand correctly … ” to avoid loss of focus. Remember that you have no way of knowing which conversation will provide you with a nugget of an idea, or a spark of inspiration, or the beginning of a solution to something that’s eluded you. View each conversation as an opportunity.

3. When you meet someone, let others play the expert.

People will be more impressed than if you try to play the expert. Ask “how” questions to draw out others’ expertise — for example, how did they first become interested in whatever topic they’re talking about with you? Find something to be curious about.

4. When you meet someone new, find something in common.

To build rapport, seek common goals, interests and experiences with those you meet. “Nice Cavaliers championship shirt. Are you from Northeastern Ohio?”

5. Balance giving and receiving information.

People dislike talking to someone when they can’t get a word in edgewise. On the other hand, they also dislike having to do all the talking. Find a good balance. One way to do this is by adding a question to the end of your remark. That signals you’re finished speaking and makes it easy for the other person to keep things going.

Saves for When It Gets Awkward

Sometimes, we find ourselves in a small conversation group where suddenly nobody is carrying the conversation — as if we collectively ran out of conversational gas. It can be very awkward. Here’s a reliable solution: Ask people to describe the most unusual job they’ve ever had. Since this is a non sequitur, have one example to use to prime the pump and tee it up. Maybe make up a straw man: “I was talking to someone earlier who had a series of unusual jobs during college. For example, (insert a short example you’re prepared with).” Then immediately ask the group to share their oddest job, or the most eccentric boss they’ve had. Everyone likes oddities.

A few years ago I spoke at a law firm retreat, where the firm’s tradition was to have all those who joined the firm since the previous retreat introduce themselves and describe their most unusual undergrad course. It was a lot of fun and broke the ice for everyone.

Related: How to Work the Room at Networking Events by Sally J. Schmidt

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Mike O’Horo Mike O'Horo

Known as “The Coach” throughout his long career, Mike O’Horo was a giant among his peers in legal marketing and business development. He trained more than 7,000 lawyers, simplifying powerful sales processes by which they generated $1.5 billion in new business. A serial innovator, earlier he developed RainmakerVT, a virtual BD training tool, and the sales training program ResultsPath. He wrote his column, “Well Said!,” on sales and business development truths for lawyers. Mike passed away in February 2022.

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