Walk into any event and it can look like everyone else is relaxed and enjoying their conversation. In reality almost 95% of people describe themselves as shy - it's just that they're more practised at 'working the room'. Read on to find out how they do it and learn how to turn what could have been an uncomfortable experience into an exhilarating event that expands your network circle.
1. Do some pre-event research
Use the event's list of people attending to pinpoint the people you wish to meet. Try and connect with them on twitter/Linkedin. Email them to say that you will be going to the event and would be very interested in meeting them.
2. Go with a friend
This makes it easier to mingle. The introduction: “Hi, this is my friend x, and my name is y” somehow flows more easily off the tongue than just, “Hi, my name is x”. Plus it's easier to extol the virtues of a friend than it is to extol your own, even when that friend is standing right beside you.
3. Turn up early
It’s often easier to strike up a conversation with people as they arrive, plus you won’t have to walk in and introduce yourself to established groups.
4. If there's a guest speaking, introduce yourself
5. If the opportunity arises, act like the host
Welcome people as they arrive, show them where to hand in coats and get a drink and, if there’s anyone hanging around looking lost, make a point of introducing someone to them.
6. Pause at the buffet
7. Look out for ‘open’ groups to join
If there’s space between the people in the group and there’s a general air of facing outward, then you’re probably witnessing an ‘open two (or three or four)’ which are open to you joining them. Do so, they’ll be happy to help you get into the conversation.
8. Don’t try and join a ‘closed’ group
If you see two or more people all facing each other and deep in conversation the odds are they are a ‘closed two (or three or four)’ and not likely to welcome your intrusion.
9. Avoid groups altogether if you can
10. Have an introductory line
Here’s something that works well. When you break into a couple or small group, simply say, “Hi, my name is (your name), do you mind if I join you for a bit, I’m trying to meet everyone here”. Say this and you'll be welcomed.
11. Listen and ask questions
Don't confuse being a good conversationalist with being good at talking. The mark of a good conversationalist is listening carefully to the other person and contributing to their conversation, rather than waiting (often impatiently) for your turn to speak. Find out about the other person; be charming and build rapport; keep the conversation going by asking questions (here are some examples).
12. Use your business card as conversation starter
Most business cards are very staid. If you want to be remembered, create one that is notable.
13. Learn how to finish the conversation and move on
One way is to introduce them to someone else, another is to suggest another drink and get into a wider conversation once you get to the bar. Another is to offer to introduce them to someone you came with or someone who you’ve already met, and then make your apologies to visit the bathroom.
If you plan to follow up with this contact, write some notes on the back of their card. This should be an aide memoire. Use subheads 'who', 'what', 'why', 'where' and 'when'.
Something along the lines of ’tall, short greying hair, friendly, pink shirt…wife Patty, 3 kids, likes cricket, holidayed in Zambia. Needs help with copywriting. Ring next week’
Note down how valuable a contact they’ll be and why. Should you simply connect with them on LinkedIn or would a one-two-one meeting be valuable?
14. Consider suggesting a one-to-one meeting
If the conversation has gone well and it’s clear that you may be able to help each other, arrange to meet later at a ‘one-to-one’.