Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Leadership Essentials at the Meet & Greet

I've attended a lot of meet-and-greets and have watched a lot of people work a room well. Below are my Top Ten pointers for walking into an event with confidence and making the most of the opportunity to build your social capital:

10. Before the event, do your homework. As with any successful endeavor, a little preparation can go a long way. If possible, get a list of the people who are planning to attend the event. Has anybody been elected to something? Awarded something? Written something? Made it into a newspaper article in a positive way? Whom do you already know well? Whom do you want to know better? Whom do you want to meet for the first time to try to establish a rapport? Also as part of your homework, read a good newspaper the day of the event so that you are up on the latest, and find something (or think of something) perceptive to say about current events. It also doesn't hurt to have a recent Jay Leno or Jon Stewart joke at the ready.

9. On the way to the event. No matter what mood you're in, put your game face on. As Daniel Goleman has explained in his work on emotional intelligence, our brain has "mirror neurons" that help shape the mood of those with whom we come into contact. So set a positive tone from the start. Always be ready to give a friendly greeting to colleagues and strangers walking in from the parking lot to the event. Introduce yourself and slip them your business card. Be the type of person who converges on a gathering not with the attitude of, "Here I am!" but, "There you are -- and I cannot wait to get to know you!" Etiquette tip: Be sure to put your name tag on your right lapel, so that it is easier for the person you're meeting to look from the handshake to your lapel.

8. Know how to work the room. Don't stand in one place as though you were holding court. It looks stuck up. Mix and mingle. Remember not to approach two people huddled in conversation because it may be confidential. If you've done your homework, you know some topics that will interest several people at the event. Be a good listener. Remember that your pleasant face has two ears and one mouth, and that's about the right proportion of communication when socializing with purpose. Etiquette tip: Put the business cards you receive in your right coat pocket. Keep your own business cards in your left coat pocket so that you can take a card out while shaking hands. 

7. Be prepared to play your commercial. Don't you like the creative TV commercials that premier during the Super Bowl? When you are casually telling people what you do, introduce your cause with a short, snappy mini-presentation. Some people call it the 30-second "elevator speech."

How do I say this without sounding cynical? Okay -- I'll let Joel Bauer say it: "You need to stand out above the crowd. You need to differentiate and position yourself uniquely in a world where most people are interchangeable, forgotten before they even begin." So put serious thought into your presentation, from the design of your business card, to your face-to-face conversation, to the follow-up literature you send to your new contacts.

6. Be a connector. Look for ways to connect people with common interests. Introduce people who do not know each other. Etiquette tip about the order of introductions: First introduce the lesser known person to the better known person ... then vice versa.

5. Temperance. If you decide to drink alcoholic beverages, limit your intake. Before a meal, do not drink more than one glass of alcohol. You don't want to become silly and make a fool of yourself. Have only one additional glass, at most, with food. Some people -- potential employers and partners -- care how you handle liquor. You do not want to make a bad impression.

4. Mindfulness. If you have the chance to open the door for someone, do so. If there is food, remember some basics. At the table where people are eating, be mindful of others' needs -- e.g., pour water for others. Do not begin eating until everyone has been served. If there is a host or hostess at the table, let them signal when it's okay to eat by letting them take the first bite. Just be considerate. Etiquette tips: Pass dishes from left to right. Remember to use silverware from the outside, in. Break bread into bite-size pieces. When you raise a stemmed glass for a toast, always hold the glass by the stem so that it chimes when it comes into contact with other glasses.

3. If called upon to speechify.... You might be asked to say a few words to the entire group. If this is a possibility, prepare a little talk. Just remember that if you are the only thing between people and their food, you'll want to be succinct. You could start by saying, for example: "Advice for a good speech. First, you want to start strong. Second, you want to end strong. Third, you want to keep the start and finish as close together as possible." Or you could say that you will "be brief, be bold, and be gone." Or you could begin with, "Today is your lucky day: I forgot my prepared remarks, so I'll have to keep it short." And then deliver on your promise to be succinct. Always always always remember to thank people in your remarks. People like being recognized and feeling appreciated.

2. Assess. Before the event concludes, ask yourself if you genuinely connected with somebody and made a new friend or deepened a partnership. Are there new possibilities to advance your mutual interests? Take a mental note of anything that you should write down or research in the near future.

1. Follow up. Thank you note? Business letter to explore further opportunities? People with whom to connect on LinkedIn or to friend on Facebook? You want to make sure the meet-and-greet added to your short-term and long-term social capital.

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Remember that there are pros who teach networking and social skills so that you can go to any event with confidence. One of our colleagues associated with the Hauenstein Center's Cook Leadership Academy is mentor Jennifer Maxson, the practice group leader with Varnum Consulting, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

For more information, contact the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at http://www.allpresidents.org/.

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