As summer rolls around, many folks leave the office a little earlier on Thursday or Friday nights to make it out for a cocktail event or weekend away from town. There will be a solid amount of extra-industry networking going on, to say the least. And by that I mean sloppy cocktail parties.
But here arises the often-asked question: How do I keep the conversation rolling with someone not in finance? Here are 5 tips to keep the conversation flowing and you not sounding like a prick, just a guy with swagger and the personality to make that bank account look even more becoming.
1) Hate to do it, but I'll just re-iterate what every successful person already knows here when it comes to networking: Keep the focus of the conversation on the other party.
Honestly, as painful as it might be for you to hear about someone else's life, ask thoughtful questions and listen to their responses. Don't get absorbed in the you, but actually listen and learn about them. You'll have plenty to work off of, unless you are speaking with a vaudeville actor, at which point you have my permission to end the conversation immediately and head to the bar for a double Makers on the rocks.
2)Keep the conversation 'forward-focused,' rather than about the past. By asking questions like, "What are you looking forward to most this summer/year?" rather than "So how have things been with you lately?" not only do you sound like an optimistic and cheerful person, but you immediately steer clear of the classic, "Yeah, things have been busy at work lately..." kind of boring drivel that brings any otherwise interesting conversation to a close.
3)Have something fun planned yourself. Nothing makes a person sound cooler than either a great trip with friends they just went on or one on which they're about to go. Further, when you still have it planned ahead, you can ask them if they know anybody who's been there before, ask for recommendations, or even ask about their favorite vacation they have taken recently. Even if it's only a weekend day away to visit friends or Mom & Dad, this can be a great way to move a conversation forward. (Though, we all know you're heading out to the Hamptons on Saturday night for a rager at a mansion you and a few buddies rented for the weekend. Classic.)
4) Ask for advice. When you ask anyone for their opinion or perspective on something, they immediately feel respected and valued. When you ask someone for advice, this goes even one step further because it shows you already trust the other person. If you're in a conversation with a girl, for instance, ask her for advice on the next piece you should add to your wardrobe and why. If it's a bro, see what his favorite bars are in town and where you should hold your next get-together with the homies. When you ask for a recommendation in the right way, it's a quick road to winning their affection and trust, because you've already shown they've earned yours.
5)Make an introduction. It's a huge compliment for you to introduce them to another person you know at the event. If you've been talking for a few minutes and think this other person might be cool but seem to be in a sticking point in the conversation, offer an introduction and seek out another ally across the bar/room, wherever. Just make it casual: "Hey, my good friend Joe is here too and I think you two would really get along. Should we go find him?" Boom. Easy. Now you have the license to start up a whole new conversation with a different cast of characters, plus play the maven role by introducing people across the bar.
Bonus) Ask about family. In China, this is huge. By inquiring when the next time is that they'll see their family, you've opened up a great line of follow-on questions and you can learn more about where they grew up and what their childhood was like. It also gives them the opportunity to steer the conversation to something they feel comfortable talking about, which should get them jawing for a little bit. In China, asking about family is a sign of respect and decency - just don't ask if the other guy's little sister has graduated from university yet.
What are some of your favorite one-liners or questions to pose at summer cocktail events? What's been the craziest conversation you've had at these things? Any other tips from the monkeys out there?