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(Reuters) - According to James Uleman, PhD, a psychology professor at New York University and researcher on impression management, “In spite of the congeniality of many professional gatherings, judgments are being made and impressions formed at all times.”
For that reason, it’s important to make sure that you project a positive, professional image at every moment. In particular, it’s important to enter and integrate into the gathering in a manner that’s calm and confident. Equally important is the impression you leave upon parting.
Here are my tips for successfully building your reputation and network at your next professional gathering.
1. Be prepared: Before attending an event, be clear as to what the purpose of the event is, who is attending, and what you have to contribute to the conversation. Give consideration to what others might want to know about you and your business, so you’ll be better equipped to answer and anticipate any potential questions.
2. Make yourself welcome: When you enter an event, look for groups of people who appear comfortable and at-ease. Approach a group, make eye contact, then smile and ask, “May I join you?” You should wait to be invited before actually moving into the group.
3. Connect with confidence: When you join a group, shake hands with each person and introduce yourself clearly by saying your first and last name while making eye contact. When they state their name, state it back to them, as in, “Nice to meet you Pamela.” Doing this with each individual will help you remember their names later.
4. Find common ground: When making conversation, connect first on a social level. If you build a good rapport with others it will naturally lead to business discussions later. Avoid pushing business and stick to soft topics such as the weather, where others are from, the location of the meeting, etc.
5. Avoid touchy topics: Avoid discussions about divisive or highly personal topics. This includes religion, politics, diet, and medical issues. If you’re stuck speaking with someone focused on one of those subjects, change the topic and, if possible, the person to whom you’re speaking. For example, if “Joe” is discussing a recent surgery in great detail, say, “It sounds like you need a vacation.” Then turn to “Sue” beside you and ask, “Sue, have you gone anywhere interesting recently?”
6. Be and look alert: Making others feel important is key to making a connection. Doing so requires actively listening. Making eye contact, nodding in agreement, and remaining engaged with an open and upright posture will indicate that you’re listening and interested.
7. Exit with impact: When exiting a group shake hands with each individual, looking them in the eye, and, using their first name, state how nice it was to meet them. If you discussed connecting or sharing information, state that you look forward to doing so and be specific about how. For example, “I’ll be sure to forward you a link to the car show we discussed.” Share your business card at this time, always passing it so that the individual receiving it can read your name and title.
From entrance to exit, how you conduct yourself at a business event matters. The impression you make not only determines if you earn the respect of others but has the potential to shape future business deals, collaborations, and job opportunities.
(Pamela Eyring is the owner and president of The Protocol School of Washington® (PSOW), which provides professional business etiquette and international protocol training. Founded in 1988, PSOW is the only school of its kind in the U.S. to become accredited. Any opinions expressed are her own. PSOW’s website is: www.psow.edu.)
Editing by Michael Roddy