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How to Schmooze When You're Scared Silly
By Diana Ratliff

Fact One: The world is full of strangers.
Fact Two: "Meeting strangers" is the #1 fear of Americans.
Fact Three: With preparation and practice, it is possible to stay cool, calm and collected - and even enjoy yourself - at business mixers, tradeshows, and conventions.


First, do some research. Get some preliminary information. Visualize the event. Find out who's likely to be there. Determine your purpose in going. Focus that nervous energy into planning for a successful outcome.

Then give yourself a mental pep talk. After all, these are just people you're meeting, with their own problems and imperfections. That guy driving the Mercedes may be up to his ears in debt (or as a friend observed, "It doesn't mean he HAS money. It means he HAD it.") That gal in the designer dress may have just been diagnosed with cancer.

So lighten up. They're going to this function to meet people, just like you are.

Of course, once you arrive at the gathering, the real fun begins. (I'm reminded of Stephen Bayne's famous quote, "I'm rather like a mosquito at a nudist camp; I know what I ought to do, but I don't know where to begin.")

Unless you're planning to hide in the bathroom the whole time or glare at anyone who approaches, you need something to say.

Develop a list of great opening lines. You don't need to be a smooth talker; your goal is to come across as someone who's interested n the person you're talking to. That sincerity paves the way for truly fruitful business and personal relationships.

"So, how do you know (host/hostess name)?" or
"Don't I know you from somewhere?" or
"Are you a member of this organization?"

All are safe, non-threatening questions with the added benefit of allowing you to look for connections. By the time you've covered where you were born, where you went to college, and the organizations you belong to, you'll both probably feel much more comfortable.

"Excuse me, but I couldn't help but overhear you saying (_______)."

It's flattering to think that what you're saying is of interest to others. People will usually welcome your input.

Make it easy for people to approach you as well. Carry around a book or something unusual to a business mixer. This offers people a great reason to strike up a conversation. Hang out near the end of the buffet table, where most people linger. Make it a point to introduce people to each other.

When it comes time to exchange business cards, advanced preparation also helps ensure that you leave a great impression.

First, make sure you remembered your classy business card case, that you have an ample supply of cards, and that the case is in an easy-to-access location such as a jacket pocket.

And then smile. Look the recipient in the eye.

If you can carry it off, now is the time to present the card with a little flair. Show off your business card magic trick - bow and slowwwwwwly present the card - or give a brief, REHEARSED commercial about your product or service.

Note: Never EVER accompany your card with controversial or inappropriate comments. That includes swear words, sexual innuendo or off-color jokes, wisecracks about religion or politics (including office politics) or ethnic jokes.

If nothing else, a comment such as "I appreciate the chance to earn your business" is always in good taste. And if you can offer a sincere compliment, they're sure to remember you with pleasure.

Still rather have your teeth pulled than talk to a stranger? If all else fails, and you simply have to attend a gathering you dread, try one of these ideas.

* Act as if you're not nervous. I don't know how this helps, but the effect is real. (Remember the song "Whistle A Happy Tune" from the movie "The King and I"? Same principle.)

* Make an agreement with yourself that you can leave after you've talked to five people. Talking to just five people sounds much less threatening. And by the time you've talked to number four, you may have found a reason to stay.

Successful schmoozing comes with practice. And that practice can really pay off in establishing new friendships - and larger bank balances too.

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2003, Diana Ratliff. All rights reserved.

Business Card "Guru" Diana Ratliff is an entrepreneur and speaker with a passion for innovative and inexpensive marketing. For her free guide, "How to Create a Compelling Business Card", visit her website at

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