Points of Protocol: The Art of Mingling

Bar Bulletin, Tuesday, May 15, 2001

By Cathleen Hanson

It's 4:45 on Thursday afternoon and as you glance at your watch, you're thinking, "Can I forgo the open house my client is throwing this evening to celebrate the opening of their new offices, or can I go home, relax, and watch Survivor." If you opt for going home, you're in good company. Jeanne Martinet, author of The Art of Mingling says that 90% of Americans have minglephobia, and would rather, well...watch Survivor than spend an evening with a roomful of strangers.

If, however, you opt for your client's open house, you've made a good professional move, because as research from both Stanford and Harvard points out, the number one skill for success in business is the ability to mingle with other people. Remember the adage, First Impressions Last a Lifetime? Out of all of the seminars I've presented there are a few people that stand out in my mind.

One person in particular is a man who sought me out before a Dining Savvy seminar. He walked up to me with confidence, shook my hand, introduced himself to me, and told me how much he was looking forward to the seminar. He then moved on, and introduced himself to other participants. What did he do that was so noteworthy? Quite simply, he put other peoples' needs before his own, attempting--with each interaction--to make the other person feel more comfortable. Putting the other person first is not only good manners, but crucial when mingling at a social or business event. For starters:

Shake hands and clearly state your name. Though in the not too distant past, it was considered appropriate for women to remain seated during a handshake, both men and women should now stand when shaking hands. The effective handshake consists of firmly grasping the other person's hand so that the web (the flesh between the index finger and thumb) of your hand meets the web of the other person's hand. Advance planning will neatly position you with your drink in your left hand, thus freeing your right/handshaking hand. Advance planning will also position your namebadge on your right side-the handshaking side.

Before an event, set a goal for yourself. Your goal for Thursday night might be to meet ten new people at the open house. Be ready to approach people you don't know with entrances such as:

The Excuse Me-- I hope you don't mind my joining you, I don't think we've met before.
The Compliment-- This looks like a great group. I couldn't help overhearing your laughter.
The Query-- How are you connected with the event/ host?
The Food-- The food looks delicious.
The Environment-- What a wonderful location/building/space/decor.
The Music-- This music reminds me of ....
The Fade In-- Stand next to a group and join the conversation.
The Weather-- One of my favorites.

Once you've made your entrance you're ready to engage in conversation. Your purpose is not to sell anything, but rather to establish a relationship for the future.


Ask Questions-- Most people like to talk about themselves. Be careful to avoid such questions as, What do you do for a living? which can be considered rude.
Be Interested-- The best conversationalists are often the best listeners.
Keep Your Focus on the other person.
Be Interesting-- Have a general knowledge of many things. Avoid discussion of politics, health or religion.
Don't Dominate or Brag-- While sharing your experiences can be interesting, don't overdue it.

And finally, remember to remain upbeat and positive-even though you're missing your weekly dose of Australian Outback-which incidentally, can be a topic for conversation.