Networking events tend to be designed for a particular personality, those who can walk into a room and make friends with anyone. These events are tough, and everyone feels the pressure to be interesting and likable.
Here are some helpful hints that can be used to help you break the ice with new connections at your next networking event.
1. Create realistic expectations. Not everyone feels natural at networking events, if they make you nervous, don’t psych yourself out with unrealistic expectations. Even though you may not meet 25 new contacts at your next event, that’s okay. Try to find individuals you can build strong relationships with, because one quality conversation is more beneficial than 25 superficial ones.
2. Prepare before you go. Start planning ahead and prepare some icebreakers or opening lines. Be sure to start with open-ended questions, these spur interesting conversations. People love to talk about themselves, their work and their hobbies. Ask questions like, “How long have you been a member of the host organization?” or “What’s your favorite part of your job?”
3. Manage your time. Start deciding ahead of time how long you’ll stay at an event; this makes the commitment much less intimidating. Start by giving yourself 20 minutes to get your nametag, a drink, and meet at least one new person. From there you will start to get used to the environment and enjoy yourself.
4. Ask for an introduction. If there’s a particular person you’d like to meet at the event, ask a common connection to introduce you. LinkedIn makes it easy to find mutual connections, so use them to increase your network.
5. Become a great listener. Most people are better at talking than listening, if you can overcome this, you’ll stand out as someone who values others. Be sure to listen, think, then respond in three separate steps.
6. Get personal. Challenge yourself to open up and contribute to the conversation. If you ask consecutive questions without giving any information about yourself, it will start to feel like an interrogation.
7. Practice make perfect. If you’re still extremely nervous or unsure, challenge yourself with low- or no-risk situations. Drive to a networking event in the next town over where you likely won’t know anyone. Experiment with new conversation-starters or stories. That way, even if you make a complete fool of yourself, it won’t matter.
8. It takes time. With more practice, you’ll become more comfortable in social situations and with sharing your true personality. Make it a habit to take advantage of everyday opportunities to network. At the office, take small breaks to walk around and casually socialize with your colleagues. Once a week, invite a colleague to join you for lunch or coffee.