Navigating Networking: It’s All in the ‘Approach’

Event-based Networking Strategies

I am often asked by introverts how to approach new people at events. Some people view this activity as exhausting while others avoid it at all costs. Being an extrovert myself, I never completely understood where these ‘shyer types’ were coming from – until recently. I was at an event where I did not know a lot of people and suddenly felt exhausted. For some reason, on that particular evening, what usually comes naturally for me felt like work – hard, energy-sucking work. Here are a few strategies that worked for me (that night) and many others as well:

–       Situational Approach: The food line, for example, is a great place to strike up new conversations. Everyone is close together and you have an easy topic to start with. I actually started with this strategy that evening. (I also skipped lunch that day which may have had something to do with this decision.) I joked with the woman in front of me about my decision to go for the donut over the fruit. This simple question prompted a larger discussion about diet and exercise which led to an exchange about each of our jobs.

–        Drop Something: Okay, hold the eye rolling until you hear me out on this one. I am not proposing you act like that old lady who drops her handkerchief expecting others to fall over themselves to pick it up for her. I am suggesting that dropping something small, such as a piece of paper, a pen, or some business cards can draw someone over to help you. That will lead to an easy in to extend the conversation past a quick “thank you.”

–       Lone Wolves Make a Good Pack: Seek out another single person to approach. They may be feeling just as uncomfortable as you and will appreciate the save.

–       The Group with Physical Space: Here, you can step into the space in an existing conversation without saying anything. But do look for the right time to introduce yourself. (If you want to learn more about this topic, I will be sharing more tips on joining group conversations in a post three of this series.)

–       Arrive Early/Leave Late: The fewer people there are, the less intimidating it is to approach someone new. During these times, you can also assign yourself a job like helping the ‘sign in person’ set up the desk or cleaning up the food table after the event. Having ‘a job’ automatically gives you something to talk about.

–       Volunteer to Work the Front Desk: This is an excellent way to initiate conversations while avoiding the ‘whole approach new people stress’ all together.  Everyone has to come to you and you are viewed as someone in ‘authority.’

If you feel overwhelmed or drained, go check your phone, take a seat in the lounge or get some fresh air and reenergize. When you come back to the room, you may want to hang out by the front desk. This gives you the opportunity to meet new people as they arrive so you do not have to start all over seeking out new people and groups to approach amongst the larger crowd.

Now that you have ‘the approach’ down, join me next week when I share my favorite conversation starters.

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