Today’s question is a nice companion to the one posed last week in the post, “Breaking In,” in which I addressed how to politely enter a conversation already in progress at a networking event. Mary B. wrote to say,
I recently walked into a networking event and it appeared that everyone was in groups of four, deep in conversation. I didn’t know anyone. I had a hard time finding someone to talk to. I eventually found a few people to talk to but felt that I should have been more successful in meeting more people.
Oh, Mary, I know the feeling! It really can feel awkward to enter conversations, especially when it feels like you know nobody and nobody is seeking you out for conversation. Ugh.
A few thoughts:
- Be Brave. The fact that you even bothered to show up to an event at which you would know almost no one is reason enough to celebrate. Well done! Maintain your courage. Pick one of those groups of four (really, any group will do)… walk right up to them… wait for an opening and say, “Hello.” I anticipate your confidence will inspire others to respond in kind.
- Stand by the Bar or the Buffett. I can guarantee you this – whenever there is food or drink to be had, attendees will make their way there. Position yourself nearby. When you see someone come away from the line, looking for a place to sit or a person to talk to, be that person! Offer up a seat or suggest that you find a place to sit together.
- Save Someone. Remember, as uncomfortable and, frankly, downright lonely as you may be feeling, I promise you there is someone else feeling even less positive about the experience. You can spot them easily – they are pinned up against the wall where they have receded to shadows not knowing who to talk with or what to talk with them about. Reach out! A warm smile and an introduction are all it will take to engage them in discussion. Be prepared with a question or two, “What brings you here?” or “How are you enjoying the event?” or “What do you know about tonight’s speaker?” to generate conversation and away we go!
- Bring a Buddy. OK, here’s the deal, if you use this bit of advice, you must, simply must, commit to NOT standing with your pal, one-on-one, during the whole event! Instead, set a plan to divide and conquer. Agree to check in on one another every 15-20 minutes. Compare notes. Introduce one another to new folks that you meet. I understand that there is some strength in numbers, so, if you do stand together, introduce your friend to others – it is easier for you to shower them with accolades than for him/her to do so on their own.
- The rule of 1, 2 or 3. Remember, if you meet one, two or three people with whom you have had a meaningful interaction, with whom you plan to follow up, with whom you would like to stay in touch, you win! You now have my permission to leave. There is no need to stick around – unless, of course, you are having the time of your life, the shrimp cocktail is particularly tasty or the club soda continues to be especially refreshing! The point of a networking event is not to come away with a pocketful of other peoples’ business cards – it is to establish a few solid connections about which you will feel great.
Do you have some guidance on making those uncomfortable networking events more comfy for the rest of us? Please take a moment to share your ideas at CoffeeLunchCoffee.com.