Photo credit: East Midtown on flickr.
Pro: I love to meet new people. I love networking events.
Con: I find it hard to introduce myself at these events.
My Issue: It’s hard to join an existing conversation because I feel like I’m intruding.
Here are some hacks I’ve used to get around this.
1) Start Early
Start your networking before the networking event.
If the organizers provide a list of attendees, reach out to some that you’d like to meet (e.g. via email, social media, etc.).
For me, arranging to meet people ahead of time makes it less awkward to search for a conversation among the crowd.
Also, take advantage of elevator rides. Strike up a conversation when you have the undue attention of others. Once you’re inside the event, there are plenty of distractions that can sidetrack your introduction or conversation.
2) Position Yourself in a Highly Trafficked Area
I learned this hack at an event in San Francisco. The event provided free pizza and beer.
There were two beer taps and attendees could help themselves. With a lack of networking opportunities falling into my lap, I decided to grab two slices, then pour myself a glass of beer.
In front of the beer taps was a counter. I placed my pizza and beer on the counter and started eating. In between bites, I’d stop and look around.
Sure enough, others found the counter a convenient area to place their food and drink. People who stood next to me would introduce themselves. That night, I met a serial entrepreneur and an executive recruiter. When I go back to the same event, I seek out that counter.
3) Strategically Look for the Available Seat
If people are seated and eating at tables, go grab your food, then scan the room for tables with available seats.
I look for the duo who have an adjacent seat empty.
Body language is important: are their heads pointed inward, or straight up and looking around? The pointed-inward duo may not be welcoming of a visitor.
If, as you’re walking around, someone makes eye contact or smiles at you, make a beeline for that table.
When I’ve picked out a spot, I’ll approach and say, “Is this seat taken?” It’s important to judge the reaction. If they say the seat is available, but their expression or body language says the opposite, I’ll say something like, “You know what? I think I’ll grab a spot closer to [SOMETHING]” and move on.
Once I find a welcoming group, I introduce myself, then ask people what they do for a living.
4) Find and Talk to the Organizer
At some networking events, it’s not apparent who the organizer is. At others, the organizer will grab the microphone and welcome everybody.
If I’m having a hard time meeting people, I’ll seek out the organizer and introduce myself.
I organize a Bay Area Meetup for B2B Bloggers, so I like to ask event organizers for tips. I also like to understand how they create, manage and grow their own event. The organizer is a natural magnet. And while I genuinely want to speak to them, one of two things often happens:
- They’ll introduce me to others (e.g. “Oh, you’re active on social media? You have to meet Amy.”)
- Others will come speak to the organizer and the organizer will introduce them to me
Sometimes, the organizer will be so overwhelmed with people coming over to talk that I’ll start up conversations with the overflow crowd.
5) Take Advantage of Waits and Lines
Is there a long line to get into the event, or for the free pizza? Lines are a great place to network.
Start with the two obvious opportunities: the person in front of you and the person behind you.
One icebreaker I like to use is, “Have you been to this event before?”
If “yes,” then ask what they like about it.
If “no,” then ask how they heard about it.
The conversation may flow from there. If not, then try the person behind or in front of you that you didn’t choose first.
Twitter Users Chime In
I asked Twitter users to chime in with their tips. Here’s how they responded:
Share Your Hacks
In addition to the fine hacks shared by these users on Twitter, please share your own hacks below, or tweet them to me. I’d love some new things to try!