I attend networking events for my job — alone. All the introverts reading this just gasped in horror, because thinking about walking into a room full of strangers makes our faces flush, our hearts beat faster and our hands shake.You’d think we were being chased by Pennywise.
Can you attend networking events solo? Here are five things I do to make myself feel (a little) more comfortable as an introvert at networking events.
1. I look for loners.
If I don’t see a familiar face when I walk into the event, I target someone who is standing alone. If there are no loners, I go to the refreshment table and eavesdrop while picking up a beverage. I listen for a conversation I can contribute to, then ask the group a question about their topic. I maintain the conversation while gravitating to a table with them. Once there, I ask if they mind if I sit with them. No one has said no — yet.
2. I practice my elevator pitch.
I’m always refining my elevator pitch to feel less nervous about giving it. After delivering it to a new audience of fellow attendees, I pause for questions. What they ask reveals where my speech is weak and allows me to revise it for the next networking event. This also gives me an opportunity to ask them for theirs and see if I can incorporate any of their style into mine.
3. I find common ground quickly.
One networking event I attended was held on a brutally cold day. An impending polar vortex was headlining, so talking about the weather was a no-brainer. During the event, one of my table mates made transportation arrangements to dance class for her daughter, so asking her about her children was obvious. Another one had a Louis Vuitton tote, so complimenting her was easy. When they talked about the suspicious chicken salad at lunch, I asked another attendee for her chicken salad recipe. During the event, my husband texted me a funny meme featuring a dog. I showed it to them and asked about their fur babies. Finding easy conversation like this makes any event fly back — and makes it easier to make meaningful connections.
4. I connect with vendors.
If the event features vendor-occupied booths stocked with swag to lure attendees into conversation, I take the bait and ask them about their companies. I give them both my business card and elevator pitch, ending with: “I’m not sure right off the top of my head how our companies can help each other, but I’d like to do some research and get back with you. May I have your business card?” This ends the interaction, and this introvert can move on feeling good about gaining a contact to follow up with.
5. I put myself in the "host" mindset.
If this event has a lunch break, I invite other attendees to eat with me. This is scary stuff, but if I approach it with a host mindset; I find it easier to do. For example, I'll say: “Did you want a drink with your boxed lunch? I’m on my way to get one. What can I pick up for you? Would you mind finding us a place to sit while I grab those? Thanks!” If this event has exhibition booths, I strike up conversations with other participants around me waiting in line for our turn at the popular ones. Maybe I'll say: “These guys must be really great. What company do you work for?”
Networking events often feel like Kindergarten recess. I wait for someone to make eye contact, then say, “Hi! I’m Mardi, what’s your name?” and the game begins. It’s less scary when I remind myself that all I want to do is make an initial connection — and that’s why everyone else is there, too.
Mardi has been compared to the C.U.L.A. Advisor in “Legally Blonde,” which she takes as a high compliment. She is adept at preparing people for job interviews and performance evaluations. She loves talking about all things communication, marketing, and relationships. Visit her at www.mardihumphreys.com