Guest post by Rebecca Lovell, Chief Business Officer for Geekwire.

Seattle’s abuzz with entrepreneurial activity, and my calendar runneth over with happy hours on an almost daily basis.  Good problem to have—I live for this kind of thing, and there are some terrific people and organizations out there hosting great industry events.  Cheers to Monica Guzman for celebrating the value of social glue, but for those of you who would rather go to the dentist than attend a “networking event,” here are a few tips:

  1. It’s not a junior high dance.  It’s really OK to stand by yourself for a few minutes, collect your thoughts and some refreshments, and survey the room.  Take your time getting into conversations, and don’t be afraid to stay put and let people seek you out too.
  2. When meeting people for the first time, in addition to introducing yourself, be sure to repeat their name and make eye contact while doing so.  Much better chance of remembering the name in the future. It’s like a new vocabulary word—if you can use it three times it’s yours (I’m not necessarily recommending this kind of repetition in a first meeting—when I hear my own name repeated back to me too many times I feel like I’m in an infomercial).
  3. Listen.  Not rocket science here, but this is clearly the foundation of any good conversation.  I am fully convinced that one of the keys to having a good memory (see point 2 above) is actually listening the first time around. When your companion is talking, focus on what they’re saying, not what you’re going to say next.
  4. Ask questions.  Even in this two-degree-of-separation town, you may need to dig beneath the surface a bit to find common connections, and that’s where conversations get interesting and fun.
  5. Be succinct.  In the early stages of a dialogue, try not to speak in paragraphs (serial monologuing can be a real snoozer).  If someone asks what’s new, or wants to hear about your latest venture/business/idea, see if you can describe it in one sentence. It’s a good litmus test for the clarity of your thinking.  Good sign: they’re asking questions (see tip #4).  Bad sign: eyes glazing over.

As all good things must come to an end, please note the following exit strategies, which should be part of the ebb and flow of any social gathering.  If you don’t have Dave Chappelle’s wrap it up box on hand, try the following:

  • Make introductions.  At well-attended events this will happen organically, at any time throughout the evening, but look for opportunities to connect people to each other in a meaningful way. Getting that two-degrees of separation down to one is what these events are all about, and chances are, you know someone who could be helpful to your conversational companion.  So be it if it signals the end of your own dialogue.
  • Go get a cocktail.  If you sense your conversation has drawn to a natural close, help the other person out and seek a gracious exit.

Author’s note: If you see me at an industry event and I claim I have to re-fill my cocktail, there’s a 99% chance that I really just want a drink.  Seriously.  Ask anyone.

Last but not least: Want to put your newfound mojo into action?  Check out the GeekWire Gala. We’ll make it ridiculously easy for you to connect with hundreds of the hippest geeks in town through calendar-themed activities and fabulous prizes. Hope to see you there!

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