The idea of walking into a room full of people we don’t know is generally not on people’s ‘favourite ways to spend my time’ list. But occasionally, whether it is a specific networking event, a conference or even a social event like a wedding, we are all going to have to approach and talk to people we don’t know.
So how can we make this idea less intimidating? Below I’ve listed out a few of the most common fears around big events, and a few tips to overcome them. It is geared towards big networking or work events, but lots of the tips are equally applicable to big social events too.
1. What if.... no one will talk to me – there is the fear that when we walk into the room we will just be a billy no mates, nursing our glass of wine in the corner. Finding that first person to talk can be tricky so here are a few ways to get round it.
a. Arrive early – if you are one of the first there, it is much easier to get into conversation than if you arrive to an already packed and chatting room.
b. Go with a friend – now this is a bit of a cheat, but having someone to arrive with can lessen the anxiety, and will give you someone to chat to for the first few minutes while you scope out the room. As long as you don’t spend the whole time chatting just to them, then there no harm.
c. Arrange a meeting just prior to the event – if you know there is someone going to the event that you want to talk to, don’t leave it to chance. Drop them a message asking for a chat just before the event. That way you get a decent chat, you get to arrive at the event with someone, and they might introduce you to others at the event.
2. What if..... I can't think how to start the conversation? Most of us hate small talk. If you don’t like doing the whole ‘did you come far today?’ chat, then think of something else to say! Obviously, a small degree of ice breaking chat is necessary, but you don’t need to keep asking bland questions. In advance, try to think some questions that you actually want to know the answers to – not only will it make it more interesting for you, but it’ll be more fun for the person you are talking to as well, and you stand a better chance of making a genuine connection.
3. What if...... I run out of things to say? Focus on the other person – it’s a well known fact that people like talking about themselves! But if you feel like it’s time to move on, then consider how to move on gracefully. The wonderful Will Kintish describes 2 strategies for ending the conversation – the park and the dump. The dump is where you just end the conversation abruptly and leave, making it clear you are moving on to the next person. The park is moving on, but giving the person you are talking to a chance to move with you or to leave, such as by saying ‘shall we go and mingle a bit?’ or ‘I’m going to get another drink, would you like to join me?’. It is giving the other person a chance to move on without appearing rude.
4. What if..... I get stuck with someone boring? Firstly, are you sure they are boring? Or are you just not asking interesting questions? Secondly, if you genuinely feel like the conversation is not one you want to be having, then plan your exit gracefully – could you introduce them to others, or offer to mingle together for a moment? Ending a conversation is not rude, as long as it is done in the right way.
5. What if....I just don’t want to go – then don’t! Seriously, only go to events like this if you are planning on approaching them in a positive way. Not only will it be more enjoyable for you, but if you are there to get the most out of them, it will be more enjoyable for others too. Some tips for getting the most out of the event:
a. Think about a goal for the event – having great conversations with 3 people for example. Once you have done that you can choose to leave if you want to.
b. Be confident – it sounds obvious, but smile, be polite, and be the person that others want to talk to. If you see someone on their own and you are free, break the ice and go and chat.
c. Follow up – just a quick email the following day to the people you met, saying nice to meet you, or to the host saying thank you, will go a long way in helping you build connections.
At the end of the day, however scary they seem, big events are just people talking to other people. If you stop thinking that every conversation has to have a point, or lead to something, and just relax and enjoy the conversations for what they are – a chance to have an interesting chat with a person you don’t yet know – then these events will become a lot less intimidating, and maybe even a bit fun!
I hope these tips have been useful – I’d love to know how you get on putting them into practice!
If you fancy getting more networking tips, why not head over to my free Facebook group The Returnity Lounge, or if you fancy a 1:1 chat, then please book a free 20 minute Discovery call by clicking here.