But I learned two things recently that have made networking events tolerable, and sometimes quite enjoyable.
First, almost everybody has some level of fear, discomfort, or trepidation around networking events. Maybe excluding the most extroverted freaks among us. So realize that if you feel nervous, so does everybody else. And this ain’t middle school. Most people would be delighted to talk to you, particularly if they’re standing alone. I’ve found that focusing on helping others have a good time is a far better mental state than worrying about my own defects.
Put Your Phone In Your Pocket
In terms of actual technique, here’s something that sucks for a moment but works like a charm.
When you walk into that room for the first time and it seems there’s nobody left to chat with, you might internally freak out, and externally look busy, not lonely and wishing you had somebody to talk to. So you bury yourself in your phone and pretend to be doing something important, or confidently stride to the bathroom, then the bar, then the snack table, then repeat.
I could write a book on pretending to look busy so you don’t look like a loser. But running from that momentary discomfort is how you keep yourself in that unpleasant state all night long.
Instead, here’s what you do. You find a spot along the edge of the crowd and you stand there. Open the front of your body, keep your phone in your damn pocket, and survey the room while you breathe deeply and calmly. Project warmth and gentle confidence, even if you don’t feel it. When people walk past, make gentle eye contact and say “Hey how’s it going?” Be present in the room.
It sucks like you wouldn’t believe, It may feel like the longest 5 minutes of your life. But if you stay present, I guarantee a stranger will come to talk to you within like 5 minutes.
If you want people to engage with you, you have to show a bit of openness and availability, even if your instincts want you to hide. Almost without fail somebody will see me and come striding across the room and introduce themselves. Often that first contact will lead to the next and so on, but if that one peters out, just repeat.
It doesn’t matter how awkward or introverted you are, if you’re present in the room, people will come find you. It works.