It’s no secret: networking events are often the most effective and efficient way to get to meet new people and expand your professional network. But for those who would rather be a wallflower than the life of the party, it can be downright painful.
Imagine joining a new group or organization and going to an event for the first time. You walk into the room and people are mingling and laughing, and everyone seems to know one another. Before you know it, you’re out the door and on your way home, having endured another awkward, agonizing two hours of skirting direct eye contact and keeping your mouth full of hor d’oeuvres so you could avoid conversation.
Instead of this scenario, here are some things to know before you go:
- Get there early. If you get to the event before most of the other attendees, the intimidation factor will be gone. When you walk into a room full of people who are already engaged with others, it’s harder to get in on the conversation. However, when you arrive early, it will be easier to chat with the few others who are already there. It’s okay to let people know that you’re new. If it’s a group that is worthy of you, they’ll embrace you.
- Offer help. If you arrive early, find the person who is in charge and introduce yourself. Ask if there is anything you can do to help out—volunteers are often needed! You’ll be able to meet the other people who are volunteering as well, and that’s a nice icebreaker. You will keep your hands busy, so even if you aren’t talking, you’ll be doing something rather than staring at the wallpaper. If the hostess and other volunteers know you’re new, they may introduce you to others.
- Don’t go it alone. If you can, bring a friend with you who isn’t so shy. They can introduce you to others that they meet, and engage you in the conversation. One caveat: be careful that you don’t talk only to your friend and forget about everyone else in the room. If that’s what you want to do, go to dinner with your friend alone so you can chat it up there all you want.
- Watch for people like you. There is no way that you’re the only shy person in the room. Look for others who are standing alone or who don’t look comfortable. Take a deep breath and go over and introduce yourself. They may be waiting for someone, but you can chat and wait with them. Then they can introduce you to the people they are waiting for. Or they may be new as well, and looking for someone to hang out with.
- Ask questions. People like to talk about themselves. If you ask questions and are genuinely interested in the responses, not only do you not have to say much, but will be remembered as friendly and a good listener. As the other person speaks, you should become more comfortable, so when they ask you questions, you won’t be so nervous when answering.
- Don’t be offended. If you put on your best smile and introduce yourself to someone and they brush you off, don’t be apologetic and don’t feel like a failure. Maybe they are having a bad day, or don’t feel like talking, or really are someone that you don’t want to know anyway. It doesn’t matter why they aren’t responsive. What matters is your reaction. Simply move away and regroup. Everyone in the room isn’t this way, so remind yourself that you’re okay and try again.
You don’t have to be super-outgoing in order to network. You just have to be smart about it, so take these six tips to heart and get out there!