I hate large groups of people. Hate.
For whatever reason, I freak out that everyone knows each other and no one wants me there, so I hide in a corner and make a grand total of zero new contacts. Regardless of the fact that most other people also hate these events, I still find ways to avoid them.
Problem is, we all know if you want to go anywhere with your career you need to know people. The solution for shy people like yours truly? Grow some balls.
Turns out the difficulty isn’t usually the conversation, but getting the conversation started. So here are some ways to work your way into the crowd and triumphantly come out with a pile of business cards you may or may not throw out later:
Find a break in the clumps
If you’ve ever been one of the lucky few who finds themselves in a clump of chatty people, you’ve probably experienced this phenomenon: You’re in the Clump, talking about health care or whatever and you notice a Lurker, someone who’s found a hole in the clump and is awkwardly trying to join the conversation.
Be that lurker
Thing is, no one actually minds the lurker! It’s not like you’re high schoolers gossiping about Tammi’s new haircut. These folks are all here to network and those lurkers have the right idea.
So if you arrive at an event and notice everyone’s already in little circles making friends, find a break in the groups. Listen for a bit, then chime in with your own story. It will be like you’d been there all along — and I pinky-promise no one will mind.
Find the Loner
I’m better networking one-on-one than trying to charm a group of people, so the trick is to look for the person who looks the way you feel – someone desperately clutching a glass of wine in one hand and pretending to text in the other. Yes, pretending. (I’ve gone so far as pretend to take a phone call.)
Waltz on up to them and FAKE. IT. Act like that charming person who rocks up and makes friends immediately. Say, “Hi, my name’s Francois. How are you getting on?” or even, “What are you doing all alone over here?”
Tell it like it is
While people may look at you weird, it often pays to be really honest in these situations. Sometimes I’ll push my way into a clump and say, “I know absolutely no one here and was standing awkwardly in the corner pretending to text. Will you guys make me look like I have some sort of a social life?”
Doing this successfully not only gives you the confidence to do it again, it helps you realize everyone can relate.
Head to the punch bowl
People usually head to the food and drink area alone, making this the perfect time to laugh with the person next to you about the cheap wine or vegetarian options. So if you’re really lonely, head over the food area often. Just make sure you don’t refill your wine glass every time. (Though, if you do, you might be infinitely better at making new friends.)
Offer your help
Occasionally I’ve arrived early to events and offered to help set up. Doing this can make you feel like you have a purpose other than standing around, and the organizers will get to know you, meaning you have someone to talk to later.
But be wary of getting roped into helping with the whole event. Surprisingly, attendees may see you as “the help” and not make an effort to get to know you. (I was once asked to film a speaker and ended up working the whole night.)
These tricks have seriously helped me be less of a whiny bitch and more of superstar. And by “superstar,” I mean “not a huge embarrassment.”
What can you add to this? Any advice for those of us who still cringe at the thought of networking events?