Being in Public Relations involves a revolving schedule of events ranging from professional happy hours to extravagant galas. More times than not I end up being the minority, in more ways than one. Whether I’m the youngest, the only woman or the only racial minority, I never look at it as a negative – but instead a respectable opportunity for me to stand out.
I hate to point out the elephant in the room but, women are very rarely taken serious – especially in male dominated industries. It’s almost as if we’re expected to be intimidated, stumbling over our words, not capable of holding a decent conversation or standing our ground. Here are some tips I wish I knew when beginning my career on how to gracefully work a room as the minority –
Wear a Smile – Looking pleasant works wonders. You’ll be surprised how much more inviting you are when you smile at someone. If sparking up a random conversation with a stranger is too much for you, settle for a smile while asking “how are you today?”.
Give a Sincere Compliment – I’ve found this to be one of the easiest ways to begin a casual conversation with a stranger but the key is to make it genuine. It’s not hard to find something you like about someone, even if it’s a tiny kudos. No one likes a brown noser, so a simple “that’s a nice watch” or “I really like your dress” can be enough to break the ice and spark a convo.
Say Your First and Last Name – This was tough for me when I first started professionally socializing. When introducing myself I’d only give my first name, while everyone else would deliver their full names confidently. Many of the people I was meeting I’d already interacted with via email but saying “Courtney” wasn’t enough for them to put two and two together. Every time I say Courtney Brand, I get an “aha” look from them, because they’ve seen that before. You’re much more likely to be remembered if you give your first and last name and let’s admit, it’s much more professional.
Use Their Name in the Conversation – I make it a point to remember someone’s name while I’m having a conversation with them. Whether I circle back around to say goodbye before leaving, or run into them at another event, using their name is the best way to leave a good impression.
Watch Your Body Language – I’ve been looked over at tables and skipped over while shaking hands; it’s not a good feeling. As a minority, you’re already expected to not fit in. Don’t give them a reason to prove it to be true by exuding unfriendly body language like having your arms crossed, checking the time or your fingernails. Look pleasant and present.
Know What You Know and Know What You Don’t Know – This is one of those rules that can easily kick you in the ass. I work in the architectural, engineering, construction (AEC) industry, but I’m not an engineer or an architect so I try not to get too deep into conversations about things I know nothing about. If you want to talk about a company’s new website, I’ll happily go into the logistics of the marketing aspects, but once we get into the technicalities of their services, I’ll gracefully bow out or keep quiet. There’s nothing worse than attempting to engage in a conversation that you know nothing about, leaving you looking more dumb than you did when you arrived. Elaborate on what you do know, and refrain from getting too technical with what you don’t.