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Dec. 21, 2009

Savvy Socializing Tips For Productive Conversations

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- For many people, having to socialize with strangers causes anxiety, notes Merrilyn Lewis, Smith’s director of donor services. In her noncredit Interterm course “Savvy Socializing,” open to Smith students, employees and alumnae, Lewis offers advice on how to alleviate that stress and engage in productive conversations in social settings.

“We’re often concerned about making a mistake or saying something wrong,” said Lewis, who will teach the course Jan. 19 to 21. “Focus on making the other person comfortable and engaged. If you do that, you'll discover that you, too, are more at ease.”

More advice from Lewis:

What should you do when you enter the room at an event?

If there is a nametag table, take a few extra minutes to scan the table and see who else is expected. Should there be someone you specifically want to see, write a note on the back of your business card and place it – or ask to have it placed – with that person’s nametag. The individual will see it and will be on the look out for you as well.

If there’s no nametag table, scan the room to see if you know anyone already. That person may be an appropriate way to be introduced to others.

Who do you approach if you don’t know anyone?

You can always move to refreshments – food or beverage – where it’s sometimes easier to strike up a casual conversation as people wait for service. Certainly introducing yourself, with an identifying tag line as to who you are and where you work, is a good first step, which usually prompts the other person to do likewise. Then you have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions about his/her professional responsibilities or interests.

What’s your opening line and how do you continue the conversation, hand out cards, work the room, and avoid potentially touchy subjects?

Possible opening lines:

“Have you attended this conference before?” If the answer is “yes,” then ask, “What have you found helpful?” “Which sessions would you recommend?” If the answer is “no,” then inquire, “What prompted you to attend this time?” or “Which sessions have you signed up for?”

Or you can ask someone what their career path has been like. “How can I get to where they are?” “What has been your greatest challenge?” “Which accomplishment are you most proud of?” “Where do you see the industry going in the next five to eight years?” It is most helpful to ask open questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer.

Exchanging business cards:

Do this only when there’s been a genuine connection that would warrant staying in touch. To exchange business cards with everyone you meet is too much like collecting baseball cards. When accepting someone else’s card, look at it and comment on something, such as the design, title, or logo, so you appear to appreciate receiving it.

Helpful hints:

1) Keep your cards in your right pocket, and those of others in your left pocket to minimize fumbling with cards.
2) It’s perfectly fine to make a note on the back of the card, especially if you’ve promised to follow up with information, a contact, or some form of action.

Working the room:

Networking conversations should last no longer than 8 to 10 minutes. If they naturally conclude at 5 or 6, that’s fine. If there’s a strong connection, and you’d like to have a longer conversation, then exchange contact information with the promise of scheduling a meeting, cup of coffee, or lunch. If you converse for more than 15 minutes, your time is being monopolized and you’re monopolizing someone else’s time.

If you have a date or guest, how do you keep them in the conversation?

This is a challenge depending upon how professionally focused the conversations are, and if the guest or date is part of the same industry/profession. If the topics are more social, it’s natural to include the guest. If not, you have to be the one to make any relevant connections for the new people you’re meeting. To be able to do this is a wonderful social skill to possess.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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