1. If you RSVPd, go. Period. It’s a small town and you don’t want to get a reputation as a flake. If you’re sick, send an email to the organizers apologizing and try to make it back to their next event. It’s social networking, but there’s still a business element to it so let your manners and business ethics show through your actions and interactions.
2. Bring business cards. Preferably yours. Store cards you are given somewhere else like a separate pocket so it doesn’t look like you’re desperate and collecting the card of anything that moves, even if in fact you are. Do not bring a resume or portfolio to a bar. That would be weird.
3. It can be cold out there. Bring a friend so you will always have someone to talk to. Preferably someone you like to talk to! Make sure they know the rules, your secret signals and are willing to run interference, fake a fainting spell or otherwise remove you from a conversation gone wrong. Be ready to return the favor.
4. Don’t butt in on a conversation in progress unless you are invited. This is the single most prevalent transgression I’ve witnessed. Be the change, people! Don’t hover outside someone’s conversation deciding whether your opinion might be useful. It’s not. At least attempt natural conversations at first and try to come just as naturally to the business aspects. Don’t overshoot so far as to come across like you’re hitting on someone either. Pretend this person is already your coworker and treat them accordingly. Neither open with, “How confident are you in your current tax accountant’s skills, Mister……?” nor “Soooo, Vegas! Hot, eh?”
5. Don't whip it out too early. (Of course, I’m referring to your business card…) Wait until you’ve developed a rapport with someone before dropping your card on them. If they give any signals of resistance (“That’s really not my area of expertise…”) treat it as a cease and desist. Now, desist! Get out of there! Nicely, of course…
6. Introduce everyone to everyone, names and professions.
7. Don’t hog anyone’s attentions. Assuming everyone is there to network, remember that you may have found your golden egg in the person you’re trading stock tips with, but they might wish to circulate as well. Make it a habit of being the first one to excuse yourself from every conversation and you won’t ever overstay your welcome. If they want more, they have your card. Like those exotic dancers always say, “Leave them wanting more.”
8. Acceptable dress includes but is not limited to business casual, business dress, and cocktail. Club attire is acceptable if the event is actually held in a nightclub, lounge or chic bar during nighttime hours, with a DJ, etc. Gentlemen, t-shirts and Toastmasters are a no-go. Ladies, micro-minis could cloud others’ perception of your purpose. Err on the side of classy.
9. Don’t dance.
10. Drink like your boss is in the room. If the event is held in the early evening, pretend your boss is at the other end of the bar. Or better yet, someone you WISH were your boss is at the end of the bar. If it’s a later event or more social than business, go to that level and add one more drink tops. Any more and you may find yourself looking for a new boss.