The power of networking is widely known, but most don’t enjoy the experience of walking into a room full of strangers and socializing. While there are other effective (and less overwhelming) ways to meet new people, don’t skip worthwhile opportunities to network in large crowds just because they are uncomfortable.
Here are some tips for making the most of a packed room:
- Energize! If you’re an introvert like me, you need moments of recharge time throughout the day. When attending a networking event after a hectic day, give yourself a few minutes of quiet time in the car or restroom before walking into the event. You may be surprised how much more prepared you feel to tackle the room.
- Have a wingman. Sometimes the biggest obstacle is just getting to the event. It’s pretty amazing how the human mind can create seemingly valid reasons as to why we’d be better off working late, sleeping in, doing laundry, or just about anything other than attending a networking event. Engage the buddy system to stick to your plan. Then, once you arrive, agree to branch off from your friend and reconvene later so that you maximize the new people you meet.
- Get a role. This takes a little planning, but is one of the best ways to interact with just about everyone at an event. Volunteer to man the sign-in table, hand out programs, or direct people to the correct breakout rooms. Sometimes a small window is all you need to start a meaningful conversation.
- Find your peeps.Walking into a sea of strangers is intimidating for most. So, you’re not alone. Literally. There are others in your shoes (check out the room perimeter or buffet line) who would be thrilled to have you break the ice. Unfortunately, most people bury themselves in their phones instead of making eye contact, so it may appear they’re otherwise engaged when they are simply waiting for someone to open a conversation.
- Prepare an entry strategy. Breaking into a conversation with a group of people you don’t know can feel awkward, however, a simple “May I join you?” followed by a greeting and your name is simple and effective. Look for groups of three or more as these tend to be easier to integrate into than groups of two.
- Plant seeds. At a crowded event, it’s rare you’ll have more than 10 minutes to speak to any one person. This isn’t the place to go deep. Instead, establish a connection based on something you have in common (e.g., a mutual contact, having worked for the same company, your Alma Mater), and then plan a follow up meeting over coffee in the near future. This frees you up to meet more people and also is the start of a relationship (which is what networking is all about!).
Those who stretch beyond their comfort zones tend to reap the rewards. In the words of Wayne Gretzky, “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” so go for it!