You got the call. “Hey, babe. We got invited to a big work function tomorrow night. Everyone’s bringing a guest. Are you free? I really want everyone to meet you.” Oh god. Palms are sweaty. Knees weak, arms are heavy. It’s OK. Don’t panic! Follow these 10 Commandments, and you’ll be the most successful #powercouple at the event.
You might be wondering why I chose Usher and Alicia Keys’ “My Boo” as the headline picture. Two reasons: 1.) They just seem like they’d be a networking power couple and 2.) This is an impossible article to write having to say “he/she” or “him/her” the whole time for purposes of gender neutrality. So the following commandments assume that regardless of your gender, you were invited to a networking event as your significant other’s guest, and your significant other is “boo”.
1. Thou shall prepare
Now hopefully you both have read my networking prep plan. If you haven’t, check that out first. While driving to the event, talk about the people that will be there. Who are the top three people your boo needs to meet? What makes them so important? Pinpoint critical information that boo doesn’t know about people but should. Then make those your first questions when you meet these people to give boo a second chance at this info. Also, make boo give you a personality breakdown of the other guests before the event. Not only are you better preparing yourself, but you’re getting boo prepared as well.
2. Thou shall set expectations
While you’re planning, also talk logistics. Who’s drinking and who’s driving? Are you attending an after-party if invited? Can you be left alone – if so, how long before a check-in? Any signals you want to set? (e.g. pinch means please end this conversation, rub on the arm means you’re having fun, pat on the butt means you’ve probably had too much to drink, etc.) If there’s a sit-down dinner, who should you sit next to? If there’s dancing, will you dance? You don’t have to orchestrate the entire night, but the last thing you want is awkward public bickering with boo over a logistical decision you could’ve settled in the car.
3. Thou shall help with names
Guess what? I know you suck at names. You’re not alone. So does boo. Help boo by using the following technique that my wife and I use whenever I forget names (which is most of the time).
First, I’ll introduce my wife IMMEDIATELY. “Hey! Let me introduce my wife, ‘Kristin.'” Kristin would then extend her hand and say, “Hey! It’s great to meet you, and you are?”
Immediately following the individual’s response, “Hi, Kristin – I’m Jim,” I’ll immediately ask who Jim’s guest is, or how he’s enjoying the food, or what he’s drinking. Yes, maybe this move is transparent, and Jim totally thinks I forgot his name. But my wife was so fast with her questioning, it’s hard to tell, and before Jim can think about it further, the conversation has already progressed. Gotcha, Jimbo. Thanks, boo.
4. Thou shall not fight boo’s battles
Boo spent the last three months talking about how big of a jerk Todd is and how big of a suck-up Tracy is. Now here they are. Smiling right in front of you, completely oblivious of your seething disdain for them that you’ve based solely on boo’s after-work venting. Take a deep breath, and remember, this isn’t the time to fight boo’s battles. One backhanded comment or subtle jab will create a whirlwind of greater problems down the road.
You should be in spy-mode right now. Take this time to engage them in conversation and obtain data points to either confirm boo’s condemnations of Todd and Tracy or identify new evidence for boo. As an outside party, you may identify that Tom is currently doing the job of four people because of layoffs and Tracy is constantly worried she’ll be the next to get axed. Boo is too close to them to appreciate their situations, but now that you see the big picture, you can help boo strategize how to deal with Tom and Tracy in the future.
5. Thou shall avoid the guest playdate
You’re the guest. If your boo starts talking with someone who also brought a guest, please do not get trapped in the guest playdate situation. You and the other guest don’t need to entertain each other while the “adults talk”. Of course you want to impress the other guest, but remember to focus your attention back on the person your boo is talking to. Who is this person, and how can you make boo look good? Ask this person some additional information to find common ground, and keep conversation flowing. Prevent the guest-on-guest pairing and keep it a four-person conversation to avoid awkwardness and sustain inclusion.
6. Thou shall brand boo as the opposite
This tip is incredibly valuable, but only applies if the crowd knows (or think they know) boo. Use this opportunity to show boo’s depth of personality and character. Does everyone think boo is zany, funny, and irreverent? Tell that story about when boo cancelled a ski trip with friends to attend your niece’s soccer championship. Does everyone think boo is quiet and reserved? Talk about that time boo crashed a wedding in college and ended-up giving a toast. The more people think they know boo, the more they want to know a different side – a side that only you know. Take advantage of this opportunity to add depth, mystery, and intrigue to boo’s brand.
7. Thou shall be the bait
Warning: this tip is advanced and requires a little moxy.
Boo would love to talk to Ms. CFO, but since she is one of the most power people at this event, boo is afraid to talk to her. But you’re not. Why would you be afraid for her? You wouldn’t know her from a stranger on the street. Go up to her and strike up a conversation about anything. Be pleasant and friendly, but real. There’s a good chance everyone in the room has been kissing her feet all night and your uninhibited honesty and candor may be a welcomed change. Soon she’ll ask you why you’re at the event. That’s when you call over boo. Make the introduction and stick around to keep the conversation alive. Do this correctly, and you can introduce boo to all the main players in a night.
Remember: If the conversation never takes hold and you can’t introduce boo, who cares? It’s not like you have to see these people everyday. Your ignorance is your greatest asset. Walk away and try again with someone else.
8. Thou shall monitor Boo’s drinking, behavior, and confidence
We all get nervous at networking events. Remember that Boo has some additional nerves at the event, given Boo is also responsible for showing you a good time. Therefore, it is your responsibility to monitor Boo’s behaviors to ensure you don’t slip from power couple to outcasts.
Pretty simple: count drinks, listen for any slurring or meandering stories, build confidence and affirmations after important interactions, and initiate “breaks” when you and boo take a walk away from the action to regroup.
9. Thou shall avoid all arguments
Boo said something snide. Boo gave you that look you hate. Boo left you talking to people you didn’t like. Boo forgot to introduce you to someone. ALL of these behaviors are fair game for argument/discussion AFTER the networking event. I cannot stress this commandment enough. Networking events are never the time for lovers’ quarrels. Even if you suspect that mentioning Boo’s transgression could lead to a small argument, save it for the car ride home. The nerves that build during awkward networking situations create a prime environment for confidence-crushing arguments. For the next 2-3 hours, you are a team. Afterward, feel free to debrief, whether it leads to an argument or not.
10. Thou shall debrief
Boo can’t possibly remember all the discussions and people, but luckily Boo has you! 4 eyes, 4 ears, 2 brains. Put them all together after the event to create a complete picture of the event, important conversations, intriguing information, and promising relationships. Remember, no matter how nervous you were, Boo was significantly more nervous. These nerves likely stunted the amount of information Boo was able to absorb. Debriefing with Boo after the event will confirm a successful networking event, and you and Boo are destined to take-on hundreds of more networking events in the future.