How to Mingle (Not) Like a Five Year Old

mingling at a Grand Circus event

One of my many roles at Grand Circus was Director of Marketing and Admissions. This meant it was my job to create ways for people to learn more about Grand Circus, our work and ultimately decide if a coding bootcamp was right for them. So about a year and a half ago, I started organizing Open Houses where Grand Circus staff and former students would answer questions, tour people around our space and introduce people to our community.

Here’s the thing that I noticed during these Open Houses: people are awkward—everyone, even staff at Grand Circus!

mingling at a Grand Circus event

Here’s what would happen as people would walk into our space:

“Welcome to Grand Circus! Are you here for the Open House?”
“Uh, yes.”
“Great! We’re so happy you’re here. After you sign in, feel free to grab coffee or tea around the corner and sit wherever you’d like. We’ll start in about 10 minutes.”

This would happen every. Single. Time. So, I decided to do something about this. I created a training for the staff at Grand Circus that we’ve now integrated into all of our bootcamps.

I call it The Chioke Principle. (Hey. I created it. Why can’t I name it after myself? Plus, it helps you remember the steps.) So get ready to learn how to mingle, network and meet some new folks like a boss.

Chioke's Siblings & Cousin posing at Gramma's House
Me as a 5 year old, showing everyone there is an “O” in my name. My siblings and cousin showing off their Sunday best in front of Gramma’s house.

C is for City

After introducing myself and getting someone’s name, I like asking the question “Where’d you drive in from today?” I find it opens the door to a lot more interesting questions. You can ask the person for recommendations for what to do in the city, a fun fact, or simply find out if they work, live or visit the city.

H is for Highlights

Now this one doesn’t always work. But a lot of times, meetups, networking events and social gatherings are in interesting places. Ask your new friend if they’ve been to the space before or point out something interesting thing you’ve seen. It’s a pretty neutral question that doesn’t require any expert knowledge from anyone. At Grand Circus, I always highlight that our lobby won “Lobby of the Year” in 2015. Random, yes. But it gets the conversation going.

I is for Interests

A recent Inc. article, “Perfect Icebreakers: 8 Smart Phrases That Will Make You Better at Networking,” popped up on my Twitter feed. I was so excited to click over and pick up some new phrases for my repertoire. Sharing is caring, right?  

Here’s where my excitement turned to disappointment. Of the eight icebreakers, six had to do with work. One of their tips was asking someone “What do you do?” (number 2).

Say I’m at a networking event and everyone asks me that question, which let’s face it, is a go-to for a lot of people. Do I want to answer that question 10 times? Even though I love my work, aren’t I a bit more interesting than what I do from 9 to 5? What about people in between jobs or networking to get out of their current job. Asking number 4, “What do you like about your job?” might put them in an uncomfortable situation and quickly end the conversation.

Instead, ask someone “What keeps you busy?” The person can choose to talk about whatever they’re interested in. Their garden. Work. The new puppy they’re training. Hanging out with their grandmother. Preparing for a family reunion. You’ll end up with a more interesting conversation and fodder for the last step in The Chioke Principle, E.

O is for Oink

How many times have you been talking with someone and just can’t figure out how to end the conversation? You’re trying to give off cues through your body language that you want to move on but the other person just doesn’t get it. Eyes darting back and forth. Head nodding profusely. This is where Oink comes in. When you’re ready to wrap up the conversation, end it by letting the person know you’re going to grab some food.

What? There’s no food or drink you say? Use a phone call to your boss as an excuse. Or simply be honest. Say, “It’s been so great talking to you! I’m going to go and network some more.” People will get it. It’s a networking event. They want to meet a lot of people too.

K is for Knowledge

Here’s where you find out why the person is actually there. Ask: “So what brings you here today?

You’ll pick up a wealth of knowledge that oftentimes naturally opens to door to conversations about work. If you’re at an IT in the D Pink Slip Party, a recruiter will likely say “Well, my company is looking to hire some developers so I’m here to see what Detroit has to offer.” Enter your cue to wow them with your Elevator Pitch.

The great thing is that by the time you’ve gotten to this question, you know a lot about this person. And everyone else you’ve been talking with. You might even find the perfect opportunity to connect different people together. Speaking from experience, people love it when you’re make it easier for them to network.

E is for Email

Last but not least be sure to exchange information. Give them your business card and grab theirs. If you’re in between jobs, buy some with generic information – your name, email, phone number and LinkedIn profile. Here’s a pro tip that I picked up from someone else. Once you’re done with a conversation, jot down something you talked about. (Remember, “I for Interests?”) This helps for a few reasons:

  1. As you’re sifting through the many business cards, you’ll have a something to jog your memory about the person.
  2. Your follow-up email will be better because you’re adding in something personal that differentiates you from everyone else.

So that’s it. I hope you find a way to utilize my advice for having an engaging conversation with a new person and not mingle like a 5 year old.

So next time you find yourself at a Meetup, our Demo Day or even a neighbor’s bbq, take a deep breath, relax, and walk up to the first person you see and say, “Hey, my name is Chioke. Where’d you drive in from today?” Well, use your own first name. That might end up a little awkward when you exchange information.