When you really think about it, going to a wedding is basically a networking event in better outfits: There are cocktails, passed hors d'oeuvres, and lots of small talk with total strangers. It's a great opportunity to meet new people, and what could be better than picking up a potential business connection while killing time in the buffet line?
Because a wedding is a social event (and is meant to celebrate the couple, not to help you find a job), there are certain rules that apply when it comes to professional networking during the reception. "Networking isn't necessarily a bad word, as long as you do it cleverly, respectfully, and not obviously," says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. "The truth is, there's always someone we could potentially meet who could be a good fit for us and vice versa, because that's how life is, but we don't want to come across as opportunistic, especially at a wedding."
The last thing you would ever want to do is offend the couple or their families in pursuit of making a connection at the event at which they're hosting you, but that's not to say you shouldn't do it, as long as you do it the right way. Here are the expert-approved do's and don'ts of networking at a wedding—but just remember that whatever you do, never, ever change your seating assignment to get closer to someone you want to talk to. The couple will know, and they will not be pleased.
DO Bond Over Things Other Than Business
There is so much to talk about at a wedding (the dress! The flowers! The music! … as long as it's positive) that conversation icebreakers are pretty much built in. Connect with other guests by introducing yourself and finding genuine common-ground things to talk about besides your business interests. "Engage with them thoughtfully and authentically and they are going to remember you," says Gottsman. "If you're just there to close a deal or capitalize on an opportunity, it's going to be obvious." If you're able to connect on a personal level, the business conversations will come later.
DON'T Pass Out Business Cards
Leaving your business card on every plate at the reception is all kinds of tacky, but according to Gottsman, it happens. "Don't hand out business cards, even if it feels like you're the perfect business connection," she says. "If they ask for a business card, give it, but be discreet and don't hand it out to everyone in the group because it looks like you're pandering, out looking for business, and using the situation to your advantage." A better option is to (again, discreetly!) take the other person's information and agree to follow up.
DO Follow Up the Right Way
Once you've gotten someone's contact info, the ball is completely in your court. Follow up the next business day, reintroducing yourself and saying something along the lines of "I'm so-and-so, we met at so-and-so's wedding, and I would love to learn more about your company. Do you have five to ten minutes to talk on the phone?" Don't ask for a job flat out, and be respectful of the other person's time by not suggesting a lengthy in-person meeting.
DON'T Network With the Couple's Family
Even if the father of the bride is the CEO of your dream company and you are the perfect candidate for an open position, leave the poor guy alone! "Don't try networking with the bride and groom themselves or their immediate family members," says etiquette expert Elaine Swann. "Leave them alone and let them enjoy the day." Feel free to introduce yourself and share pleasantries, but anything more than that would be inappropriate.
DO Leave the Shop Talk Until Later
Let's be honest: Nobody wants to go to a wedding to talk about work. "If you exchange info and leave the shop talk until later, you're really showing reverence for the event," says Swann. "Number one, you'll really be able to be more open with the person, and, number two, you'll be able to avoid offending anyone who's there, whether it's the bride and groom or their family members." If you save the nitty-gritty business stuff for later, you'll both be more focused on the discussion than you would be in the conga line anyway.
DON'T Leave the Person as Soon as You've Gotten His or Her Info
The most important part of making a connection at a wedding is tact—and abruptly ending a conversation after exchanging contact info is anything but tactful. "Don't ditch the person once you've got his or her details," says Swann. "Keep the conversation going and enjoy your time together." The longer you talk to someone, the more memorable you'll be, so sandwich the card exchange somewhere in the middle of the chat.
DO Find the Right Time of the Night
Maybe don't try hawking your business idea right before the bride is about to walk down the aisle. "Pick a time when you have the same feeling of being in a networking environment, like during cocktail hour or once all of the formalities have taken place," says Swann. Just make sure you do it before everyone (read: you) gets too drunk to have a meaningful conversation.
DON'T Ignore Body Language
If someone doesn't want to talk to you, let it go. "Pay attention to the body language of the person you're talking to and follow those cues. If the body language is saying 'I don't want to have this conversation right now,' you'll just have to try again another way later," says Swann. If it doesn't work out the first time, it's okay to give it another go later on, but don't force yourself on anyone; it's pretty much a guaranteed way to not get what you want.