Ideas for optimizing my time at social events I have to attend?
September 23, 2012 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm at business school, and we have regular social functions, mainly happy hours, promoted by the school with the aim of expanding our networks. It's not like I'm bad at them. I'm actually pretty sociable. But I'm there for a reason, and I wouldn't be there if I had a choice. Can anyone suggest ways to optimize this socialization time, for example, exercises I might practice at these events to be more witty, funny or charming? Thanks!

I don't really drink, I don't like shouting in a bar, and I like to go to sleep early. The happy hours really aren't my thing, but I feel some personal and professional responsibility to attend. I'd rather be out riding my bike.

I can be somewhat charming, mainly because I have a decent sense of empathy. I know when to listen and when to tell a good story. But I'd like to get more out of these happy hours. I was wondering if there's anything I could do with these happy hours in order to refine my wit, to be more funny or more charming.

Please, no criticism of my philosophy. "Just be yourself" doesn't cut it. Work will place me in similar situations in the future. Just how-tos on how to optimize my time if you can. Thanks!
posted by Borborygmus to Human Relations (13 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Find some people at these things where you can take it further than socializing. People who share a (non-school-related) passion or projects, that you can get together and really "talk shop" in unusual depth, except it's not shop - it's your hobby/ambition/whatever, and you can brainstorm off each other and figure out solutions to problems and help each other out and investigate things, and it's social time, but you're not just shooting the breeze.
posted by anonymisc at 5:37 PM on September 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

My goal at these functions is usually to have two or three really interesting conversations.

To do this, I ask them questions where I'm legitimately interested in the answer. Are they passionate about something? If so, I'd love to learn more about it and why it excites them. Is there something they're dying to learn about? What? Why?

All the while I'm looking for places where I can make smart connections, but mostly I just want to know something about them more than their elevator pitch.
posted by grudgebgon at 5:40 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Generally, asking good and relevant questions is the way to go. People like talking about themselves. If you ask questions, you don't need to worry about being charming or witty.

People will also ask you questions. You should probably go in knowing what you want to say. There's a couple of reasons for this: 1) you will be prepared 2) there will be less of a risk of droning on and on 3) you can control your message.

So, anticipate questions, and create an elevator speech that hits the key points. If you want to be charming, you can always admit that it's an elevator speech, and that you thought it up beforehand.

Anyway, if you have an elevator speech, it's more likely that people will remember you in the future.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:49 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

One trick that I've heard is to act like a host. A good host will make a point of engaging those people who are standing around the edges looking uncomfortable and will introduce people to each other, particularly when they have common interests. By doing these things you give yourself a job and make yourself useful to others.
posted by Area Man at 6:10 PM on September 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

You could use memory techniques to memorize everybody's name and a little about them.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:11 PM on September 23, 2012

The whole point of networking is to expand your network - hopefully even beyond the bounds of the people in the room. Why don't you challenge yourself to try and get 3 referrals to someone useful per night out? Practice different ways of doing this, and then actually follow up!
posted by Kololo at 6:24 PM on September 23, 2012

How to work a room.
posted by alms at 6:47 PM on September 23, 2012

practice saying "yes, and" in conversations. it's a well know improv technique. basically, agree with whatever they're saying, and enhance it in some way. for example:

them: oh man, the bears were terrible on sunday.

you: oh man, i know! they were so better in the 90s.

them: totally. one time i went to a game ...
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:48 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you just playing along, out of obligation? Or are you working to build your network?

If its the former, sharpen your wit by learning to tell great jokes, compliment the clothes and other superficial aspects of your peers, always know the weather and some sports score, and deflect compliments quickly to not draw attention to yourself.

For actual networking, my motto is like life: make life easier for future bilabial.


Be prepared to invite someone you meet out for a bike ride. You can later talk about interesting things without the noise or alcohol. Networks are framed at these functions, but 90% of the building is doors and shingles and windows. To belabor a metaphor. Get past the frame and really connect with your contacts.

Invite someone else to attend an upcoming lecture or game or pub trivia night. Be open to invitations from others. There's a reason that 'tickets to the game' is such a trope in business. People like to get out and do stuff.

Be confident about ordering the drinks you want, instead of focusing on what you don't like. Even when you want water.

Ask questions that satisfy a need for you, while also allowing the other person to shine. Figure out where this person fits in your world. Not just what do they do, what do they know or what do they enjoy. But also who do they know. Who can they help you connect to? Express interest in that meeting! People often love making introductions. Also, be comfortable sharing your contacts. Let your colleagues who aren't attending know that you might make contacts for them. Ask them to do the same for events you are unable (I said unable, not unwilling. Be generous but not a mooch.) to attend. Same goes for being in the room with two people who you think should meet. Bring them together!

Don't offer advice at networking events. If you have advice, contact them later. If they ask for your thoughts/improvements on their idea or project, tell them you'd like some time to think about it and will get in touch on -day- and then meet your commitment. If someone criticizes you at a networking event, ask to meet later to discuss it in depth. instead of seeming defensive you will come across as level headed and open to help. Even if you aren't excited about what they have to say.

Less is more when talking. Learn to leave big silences for other people to fill. You'll usually get more of their stories and better negotiation. You'll also get time to think, which I find very valuable in being witty. I can't come up with anything funny or thoughtful if I'm running my mouth.
posted by bilabial at 7:15 PM on September 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you're not actually interested in trying to find people whom you might like or share certain interests with (business or otherwise), I think you're wasting your valuable time. If it were me, while I'd certainly be as charming as I could be, I'd look to connect with at least one person per evening. Not "connect" as in, they added me to some or other social network, or we got cards, but a person who shares a similar passion or outlook that I might like to get to know better.

Then follow up with that person (or those people) and get to know them. Maybe they'll have work for you, or friends that will. Or vice versa. But you'll know someone you like, which is the point of networking.

General schmoozing without making any real connection with someone can be a way to keep your ear to the rail or sus out a scene, but it's not as helpful to you as making one real friend would be. A real friend will keep an eye out for you, call around, or make a new connection--they work for you without your having to work it. Some dude who remembers you vaguely, maybe, from a cocktail party--they can't remember where--isn't really going to be worth quite so much.
posted by Hylas at 9:29 PM on September 23, 2012


That shit is for the birds. I used to belong to some networking organizations, mostly it was people hitting me up for a job, or looking to sell me something.

When you have things in common with people, it's not painful to be out with them. If you're in pain, it's pointless.

When you go out with people you work with, it's different. You can all talk about Karen in accounting and how she needs an intervention, you can talk about how the new TPS forms suck, you can discuss the health plan. You have common interests.

Usually, I don't mingle, I hang out with people I know and dish.

Unless these things are mandatory, give it a miss. You won't regret it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:59 AM on September 24, 2012

them: oh man, the bears were terrible on sunday.

you: oh man, i know! they were so better in the 90s.

them: totally. one time i went to a game ...

Or, you can do it my way...

them: oh man, the bears were terrible on sunday.

you: what's that, hockey?

them: LOL you're eccentric.

(added bonus: they don't talk about sports again to me.)
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 10:14 PM on September 24, 2012

Response by poster: A follow-up: Thanks for all the suggestions, guys.

I found something I could work on -- talking and listening isn't tough for me, but the cold approach of strangers is. You have a very short time to make a first impression. Gathering the courage to execute, and then executing well is definitely something I could work on!
posted by Borborygmus at 2:07 AM on October 1, 2012

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