Approach New People at Events Like a Pro!
And still be yourself 🙂
Going to a networking event for the first time can feel pretty scary, especially when you’re alone and you don’t know anyone.
I mean, the whole point in going to a networking event is to make new connections with people, right?
But it can be so awkward walking up to people you don’t know. And fear of this awkward feeling is enough to stop some people from networking entirely. And that’s a shame because networking is one of the most effective ways to grow and maintain a business.
NETWORKING IS ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE AND LOW COST WAYS TO GROW AND MAINTAIN A BUSINESS!
There are some people who are naturally outgoing and they have no problem whatsoever with starting conversations with people anywhere they go. For them, going to a new group is no problem. It’s no different than the millions of times they struck up conversations in grocery store lines, at the gym, in the public bathroom or even at a stoplight.
But this is not the case for an introvert. Starting conversations with strangers can feel very…well…….strange. Even for some of us extroverts, it can be difficult.
The idea of walking up to a group of people you don’t know and standing there awkwardly waiting for who knows how long for someone to welcome you doesn’t exactly get people excited.
In fact, it can keep some people from going to the event entirely!
When you walk into a networking event and people are huddled in their little groups engaged in conversations, it can feel really challenging. Especially if you’re a newcomer to the group or event.
The idea of walking up to a cluster of people you don’t know and standing there awkwardly waiting who knows how long for someone to welcome you doesn’t exactly get people excited.
Many shy or introverted people would rather stand in one place, observing everyone and hoping someone comes up to them to relieve them from their discomfort. But, remember the purpose for going networking in the first place? To connect with people we don’t know, right? Standing in one place and waiting for people to come to you isn’t exactly the best strategy to accomplish that goal.
“What am I supposed to do” you say?
Well, here are a few tips that might help.
#1 Connect with the organizer.
Before you go to the event, find out who the organizer is and, if you can, locate a picture of them.
It’s easy to figure out who the organizer is when you look at an event on Facebook or Meet Up.com because whoever set up the event invite is most likely the organizer.
Or at least they are connected to the organizer. Either way, they are involved in the event and would be a good connection for you to make.
Once you’ve seen what they look like, you can look for them when you get to the event and introduce yourself.
Tell them that you’re new to the group and what business you are in. Then, ask them who they think you should meet in the room. They’ll be happy to introduce you to a few people and help you get past that initial difficulty of starting a conversation.As you meet new people, let them know you are new to the group as well. Networkers are usually great at making connections and will be happy to make some introductions for you.
Now, this does mean you will have to make yourself start a conversation with at least one stranger – the organizer.
But that’s much better than having to do it over and over again, or avoiding it entirely, standing there alone and wasting your time at the event.
#2 Bring a friend.
Ask a friend to go with you at least for the first time that you attend a new event.
Remember that friend who talks to people at stop lights?
Ok, maybe you don’t want quite THAT much outgoing-ness….
But, who do you know already that IS comfortable talking to new people?
Ask a friend to go with you at least for the first time that you attend a new event. That way, they can help you connect with people and you won’t have to face the new crowd all alone. Maybe they have a business they would like to build through networking.
Maybe they would like a nice night out. Maybe they’ll do it as a favor. Whatever the case, you probably know someone who is willing to with you to a new event at least once.
After the initial connections have been made with that group, it should be easier to go to the next event because you will likely already know a few people that you can start with.
Again, the people in the group will probably be happy to introduce you to other networkers they know which will widen your circle of new friends. As time goes on, it should get easier and easier because you will know more and more people.
#3 Practice before you go.
You are not alone in feeling uncomfortable talking to people you don’t know. Many people struggle with it. And so did I. Until I made a conscious effort to practice and it changed everything!
Growing up in LA where no one has any personal space taught me that it was rude to interrupt people while they were doing something else.
Even though I’m naturally an outgoing person who makes friends easily, I used to really struggle with talking to people that I don’t know.
I’m from Los Angeles where the streets are overcrowded with rushing, busy people who have no space to themselves. Usually people walking around Los Angeles are on a mission; in a hurry and wearing headphones. Growing up in this environment taught me that people don’t like to be bothered when they are out.
Now there are definitely people in LA who are totally comfortable talking to strangers. And there are some people who would welcome being addressed by someone they don’t know. But that is not what I decided in my own mind.
I decided that it was rude to interrupt people while they were clearly doing something else.
So, I never really did it.
When I moved to Tucson, I brought that mentality with me. I loved it when people I didn’t know would start conversations with me. I really enjoy getting to know new people. But I still felt highly uncomfortable being the one to initiate conversations with people.
At one point, I decided that I wanted to change this. I wanted to be able to talk to people while I was out and start making new friends.
What I did in order to overcome my fear of talking to new people is what I recommend that you do if this is a problem for you.
I started small.
Every time I went out in public, I would find someone near me who I could genuinely compliment.
Every time I needed to go out in public, whether it was to the grocery store, a mall, or a coffee shop, I would find someone near me who I could genuinely compliment.Maybe I really liked something they were wearing. Or maybe they had an adorable child or a cute animal with them. Whatever it was that I sincerely liked, I would simply say, “Excuse me…” and compliment them.
“Excuse me, I love that necklace you’re wearing!”
Sometimes the other person would respond enthusiastically and a conversation would start. Other times, people would say “Thank you” and keep moving.
But I had no expectation that there would be any further conversation. That would have put too much pressure on me. I simply wanted to get over the fear of talking to a person I didn’t know.
After a while, it got easier. I found myself able to ask people questions about things – like the book they were carrying or an expression they had on their face. It didn’t happen over night. But it DID happen.
And now, I’m much more comfortable talking to people I don’t know.
This has helped me tremendously with my networking. And I even made a few new friends while I was out and about during my day.
Try it out. I bet you anything it’ll help. 🙂
#4 Know what you’re walking into.
Knowing what to expect in advance can help relieve some of the nerves of going to an event for the first time.
The first thing you wanna know is, what type of event it is.
There are two major types of networking events: Formal Networking Groups and Mixers
Formal Networking Groups
Formal networking groups usually meet on a regular basis and have a set schedule for each meeting.
The attendees will often know each other well, which means making one contact can often get you connected to several people in the room.The set program for these events usually includes a time-period for marketing messages (elevator pitches or 30 second commercials).
This means you will want to have something prepared for this section of the meeting. You can learn more about effective marketing messages in my blog post How To Do An Effective 30-Second “Commercial”
In addition to marketing messages, there is often time set aside for testimonials. This is the section where you will get to hear about the value that others in the room create for their customers. It’ll help you get to know more about the kinds of services and products that people provide.
Use this time to notice people that you would like to connect to.
Maybe they have a product or service that you could use.
Or possibly their customers may be the same people you help, only with a different product or service. These are great people for you to know as you can potentially refer a lot of people to each other.
A mixer is a business social event often held in the evening in bars or restaurants.
It’s a much more casual networking experience. There’s no set format. No marketing messages or testimonial section. People just mill around and get to know each other.
There won’t be an opportunity for you to introduce yourself to the group as a whole. And you won’t get the chance to hear what everyone does.
The only way you’ll get that information is by talking to them one-on-one. So get ready for that.
In this setting, you’re definitely gonna find groups of people in conversations and will need to use the first 3 tips we talked about in order to make connections with people.
Before you go, find out if it’s a formal networking group or a mixer.
When you know what kind of event it is, you’ll be able to determine how best to prepare yourself. Take some time and get as much information about the event as you can. Your nerves will thank you 🙂
So, now you’re equipped. Use these tips to take the edge off of meeting new people at events. And soon, you’ll be approaching people you don’t know like a pro!