5 Ways to Keep Happy Hour From Becoming Awkward Hour

The bar is open! For this week’s post, I am going to release a new tip each day related to drinking in networking settings.  There are many discussions about drinking in professional settings, but most of them are general and revolve around not drinking to excess.  I’m not going to belabor the same point that has already been belabored by every parent in America during their patented “you’re off to college now speech”.  For this post, I’m going to assume you know not to crush three martinis at a networking event and obnoxiously flirt with the wait staff.  Instead, I’m going to explain five of my favorite best practices I utilize at networking events where booze is flowing.  You can implement these tips right away to minimize the awkward situations that lurk behind the bar.  Happy sipping!

Monday

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Always keep your drink in your left hand, to keep your right hand dry for shaking.  Avoid the awkwardness of extending a cold, damp hand as your first impression… unless you’re going for that “shaking hands with your great grandmom” kind of feel.

Tuesday

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When ordering wine at an open bar networking event, consider asking the bartender to only pour you half a glass.  If you’re like me and tend to drink fast when you feel uncomfortable, then a little forced discretion could do you good.  More importantly, you’re only a few gulps away from being able to excuse yourself from an awkward or dead conversation to “grab another”.

Lastly, awkward networkers + one cramped room + booze = elbow bumps

Ordering half a glass of wine may be the difference between “excuse me” and “I’m so sorry; I’ll pay for that to get dry cleaned.”



Wednesday

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It is the confidence in your face, not the drink in your hand, that distinguishes you.

Guys – You’re wearing your nice suit and your hair is Don Draper tight, but it doesn’t mean you must order a gin martini at a casual networking function if you don’t really want one.

Ladies – If you want a beer and all the women around you are drinking Chardonnay, order a beer.  Sipping what makes you happy does not make you less classy.

I hear too many don’ts in the industry when discussing what to drink in a professional setting.  Bottom line: order what you want, and you’ll (a) reduce your risk of accidental drunkenness and (b) feel more comfortable in the moment.  Both factors are imperative for avoiding open bar awkwardness.

Thursday

thursdayAh yes, the networking event after-party, where careers are either built or destroyed.  Most networking events end around 8pm, at which point you have two options: 1.) catch the train and get to bed at a reasonable hour or 2.) have another drink somewhere else with people you met an hour ago.  Some people think the night is always over when the event is over, but once in awhile, an extra hour spent in a smaller group will yield a greater result than the event itself.

Saying “yes” too frequently or overindulging at an after-party may have the potential to ruin your night, week, career, and relationships; however, if done right, an after-party has the potential to build a stronger bond with people that could otherwise take you years to build.  Sure those bonds may result from singing tone-deaf karaoke and jointly annoying your Uber driver with obscure music requests, but they are the strongest bonds to build as they transcend the business-first relationships built at networking events.

I will release a future post listing my tips for how to “master” the after-party (based on advice I wish I had before making so many after-party mistakes), but I will end today’s post with one last tip.

Look at tomorrow’s schedule before tonight’s event and decide now if you have any ability to handle an after-party.  If you wait til you’ve had a couple drinks to determine whether an after-party is “worth it”, you’re too late.  Tomorrow morning will look like a sunny meadow with nothing scheduled but puppy licks and warm chocolate chip cookies, even if it’s packed with in-person briefings and your mid-year performance review.

Friday

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When my wife and I were trying to have our first child, we decided to get ourselves in the best shape possible.  For 3 months, I attended many networking events without a sip of daddy’s “conversation juice”, and as a result, I had to learn some brand new tactics to avoid awkwardness.

For most of us, a drink is a way of relaxing the nerves and allowing ourselves to switch from analytical workday mode to fun conversationalist mode.  When that important element is removed, or was never an element at all, try these tips to be your most confident self.

First, if you still want to appear as if you’re a part of the bar crowd, order your favorite soft drink and ask for a lime and a bar straw.  No one will ask what’s in it, but the inclusion of lime and a bar straw provides the illusion of a mixed drink.

Secondly, you’ll need to replace the confidence-inducing properties of alcohol with another source of confidence.  Wake-up early and primp, slather, brush, and tweeze your way into the finest aesthetics you can muster and don your favorite head-turning outfit.  Before leaving for the event, talk to someone who is notorious for buttering you up (e.g. grandma, dad, significant other, or coworker that clearly likes you but in a “totally professional” HR-approved way).

Also, prepare!  Preparation is always an important factor in networking, but when the magical conversational properties of alcohol are removed, you’ll need to be extra-prepared to stimulate conversation.

Lastly, and this is going to be tough, try not to make your abstention from alcohol be a part of your conversation.  There is no need to apologize or explain why you’re not drinking, just as no one else needs to feel awkward cracking their third lager while you explain the importance of sobriety.  Hopefully these tips help make your alcohol-free conversations just as awkward-free.

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