Course Call: Social Graces in Networking 101

One of the things I love about what I do, is that I have the opportunity to visit so many different kinds of businesses these days. I get invited to present at association meetings, client appreciation luncheons, trade shows and conventions, all sorts of events where people gather.

What I continually see at these events, is how little most people take advantage of them.

Let’s say you are going to a conference or association luncheon meeting. Are these among your habits?

1. You never go alone. Before you send in your rsvp or buy your ticket, you start canvassing the office for someone to go with you.

2. You are one of the last to arrive, and one of the first to leave. You only want to be there when the official program is on and you can be preoccupied with focusing on that and nothing else.

3. If you get there too early, and people are mingling, you head for the bathroom or somewhere your cell phone has reception and you can catch up with a few calls.

4. You cringe when you see nametags and assigned seating. If you’re handed a blank to write in your own name, you’ll only write your first name and you’ll write it pretty small. You’ll stick the nametag somewhere it says “I belong here” but at your waist or peeking out of your jacket, not too visibly “out there.”

5. You’ve gotten very good at saving up stuff to talk about with the people you came with, and with the body language of “private engagement” so that your animated conversation with each other in session breaks isn’t interrupted by another guest (stranger to you) approaching you.

6. In exercises and group sessions you’re the listener, not the participant. When it’s your turn, or the inquiring glances from others get too frequent, you’re able to participate under the guise of asking intelligent questions for others in the group to answer and take the attention back.

7. If someone hands you their business card, you say thank you, but you also say, “Gosh, I’m afraid I’m all out” or that you forgot your card case. You’ll never write a note on the back of theirs, and you’ll never call them.

And you thought the rest of us didn’t notice, huh.

For most of my life I’ve considered myself somewhat of an introvert, and being in business as both an executive and as a self-employed business owner has forced me to change my ways. It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I am so happy that it has done so. People I don’t know no longer intimidate me; they fascinate me. I am very eager to make new connections.

There was a time in my career I was going to conferences often, and most were an island or ocean away from home and my shy office conspirators.

a) I was forced to learn the social graces of being a conference commando, and

b) I got weary of the evasion techniques and eating alone in my hotel room.

Thank goodness, for I came to realize just how much I was missing out on.

However I do acknowledge that if you consider yourself an introvert, it’s not an easy thing to force yourself to get out there and connect with others. It helps to have support and some coaching.

It’s an idea I want to explore more of in future posts: We do all sorts of business training in our companies already, why not start to incorporate the how-tos and why-tos of the social graces and networking when we train our new supervisors and junior managers?

Meanwhile, I would love to hear from you on what has worked for you. Lets all share our lessons learned, shall we?

I’ll get us started here with a thought from Stephen Covey’s First Things First. This is the subtitle of his chapter on The Passion of Vision:

It’s easy to say “no!” when there’s a deeper “yes!” burning inside.

If you have an event to go to soon, focus on a personal goal associated with it: Why are you going in the first place? Turn your why into that deeper yes, and start to say no to those 7 Evasion Habits the rest of us have got your number on anyway.


  1. says

    The first thing I try to do at a conference is to hit the coffee line to get some fuel, and strike up a conversation with someone in the line about the quality of the coffee. This is an easy in for most, as coffee is something many are passionate about, and if it’s a local blend of coffee, it can lead to some discussion about which local blend is best, why you like the certain local blend, and what your organization offers for coffee. While I’m definitely not shy, I know many others are, and the coffee talk is the easiest in I know.
    The other in I find is that I try to help others find their nametag, especially if the organizers organized them alphabetically by last letter of your middle name or some other inane way that is impossible to figure out. This inevitably leads me to learn someone’s name, organization, and even how to pronounce the name. I ask why they signed up for the organization, and if the answer is anything but “I had to!” then I try to talk more to them.
    Those are a few tips I’ve found helpful. Gotta love those who follow your other “tips” above. Funny stuff!

  2. says

    By the way, I am a recovering networking event abuser but have been on the recovery road for the last nine years. I owe everthing to initial recovery on my early online community interaction.
    Ahhh Phil, coffee! I would imagine this tactic works the best early, eh?
    On another note, could you drop me an e-mail? Need to ask you a question and couldn’t find your e-mail.
    Thanks, Dave