What better context both to form new business contacts and to develop existing connections than at a business cocktail party, which has a more casual and relaxed vibe than the office – but still maintains a professional overtone? Business cocktail parties are a great opportunity to break out of your shell, whether you are looking to explore career options, expand your knowledge about a company and its employees, or simply to broaden your network of contacts. To put your best foot forward at a business cocktail party, make a great impression by dressing for success, engaging in interesting and stimulating conversation, and by minding cocktail party dining etiquette.
Appetizers and Finger Food: Cocktail Party Dining Etiquette
First things first: you are not attending a business cocktail party to eat dinner. Your focus should not be on the food; don’t miss making a great connection by spending too much time at the buffet. A good starting point would be to have a small meal or snack before heading to the party, so that you are not distracted by hunger while attempting to chat. Still, feel free to accept passed food or to try appetizers, especially if you will be drinking alcohol. A few tips to handling food and drink, while still managing to shake hands:
- Hold your plate or your drink in your left hand, so that your right is readily available for a handshake. Carry a napkin under your plate or against your drink, so that you can always present a clean hand. Many cocktail foods are intended to be eaten with fingers, so make sure you are ready for a quick transition
- Another method to stay handshake-ready is to eat during one part of the party and drink during another, so that both hands are not occupied or so you do not have to balance both plate and glass in your left hand
- Don’t overload your plate, so as to avoid an appetizer juggling act
- Always take a clean plate if you revisit the appetizer table or buffet
- If there are dips and crudités, do not dip vegetables right into the bowl: use the spoon to bring the dip to your cocktail plate
- One glass of alcohol at a business function should be rule of thumb (especially if you are a junior or new employee); two glasses at most
Mix and Mingle
The most important thing you can do at a business cocktail function is to talk to people! Breaking the ice is never easy at first. But once you spark an initial conversation, chatting and mingling among new contacts can be simple and you will find yourself connecting with many new and interesting people.
- The key is to meet new people: don’t stay on the safe side by talking with colleagues that you already know and are comfortable with. It will be beneficial to both you and your colleagues if you venture out of your comfort zones and chat with different people
- Be sure that you are up to date on current events or a few talking points at hand to spark a general conversation. In fact, sometimes it’s best not to start with business chat – often, people would rather connect first over neutral and unrelated topics
- Try to find out in advance who will attend the party, so you already have an idea of who you can connect with and of their position within their company
- Have business cards at hand. Before the party, check that they are up-to-date (current title, phone number, etc.) and that you have them neatly organized in a card case. Presentation can be as important as the information on the cards themselves!
Dress for Success
With regard to attire, a networking cocktail party draws a fine line: it is still a business function and so you should look accordingly professional, but a more relaxed atmosphere allows for a bit of flair and creativity in dress.
- Women: No short dresses or low-cut tops, but a black cocktail dress paired with a patterned scarf or bold accessory can add personality to the outfit, as long as it is tasteful and matches well. Or, try a colourful blouse with dress pants or a black skirt
- Men: Most cocktail parties call for a suit and tie, and pay attention to accessories as well, including nice cuff links, polished shoes and dress socks. If the party is informal, don’t mistake that for an overly casual dress code: a less formal yet polished attire could include a blazer, pressed shirt, and dark jeans or dress pants.
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