I’ve admitted it before: I can be awkward at networking events. While I’m an outgoing person, I’m reluctant to randomly approach people I don’t know. If I attend an event with a group of colleagues, I’ll talk mostly to them. If I’m by myself, you might find me near the bar or slowly circling the room to avoid the embarrassment of standing alone. I’ve heard from many other professionals who’ve expressed similar feelings.
For career development, though, these events can be important. And sometimes we just can’t avoid them if they’re a part of our jobs. We can’t always count on going with colleagues or running into people we know. So how can those of us who struggle with networking events get the most out of them? Here are three easy steps that might help:
- Head straight to the bar. No, no, not because you need booze to make it through. This move provides you with an immediate destination when you arrive and something to do when you first walk into the room, other than stand there awkwardly. (Also, you never know who you might meet at the bar.)
- Once you have a drink in hand, briefly survey the room. Look for someone standing alone, or a small group of two or three people. I usually look for people at a standing table, which provides a set location and somewhere I can set my drink or a plate of appetizers. It also makes it easier for other people to join the group.
- Once you’ve identified a target, simply approach and introduce yourself. Do so not too aggressively—don’t startle or abruptly interrupt a conversation. But be confident. Don’t linger and wait for your target to notice you. Use body language to indicate your intention to join (like setting your drink on the standing table). This cold-turkey approach can be hard for some of us, I know. It is for me. But I’ve discovered, lo and behold, people go to networking events to meet other people (I know, a groundbreaking insight). Approaching a new person and starting a conversation is, in fact, something that’s kind of expected at networking events.