Networking events are those special times in life when people
gather together - generally in large numbers - to chit-chat,
exchange contact info, and eat unhealthful, unidentifiable fried
food in unnatural quantities.
How are the networking-adverse to survive, let alone thrive, in
Don't wait until you are psyched to network. You've got to kick
yourself out that door. Once there, apply the top-secret "Pause,
Process, Pace" strategy.
There are several steps in this process that will help you prepare
for a successful networking experience.
- Preregister. Committing to an event in advance
makes you less likely to back down. You gain time for mental
preparation, and you ensure yourself a spot at events that matter.
- Volunteer. Arrange in advance to help out. Many
networking-haters are most comfortable when in a designated,
structured role. Working the event provides you with a specific
reason to engage with others, rather than poking around for small
- Go with a pal. Finding a networking ally can
transform your experience. Challenge each other to take turns
venturing out and reporting back.
- Clarify goals. Why are you attending? Set clear,
measurable outcomes such as meeting two new people. Be realistic.
- Arrive early. It is better to enter a room with a
few people than one with a crowd packed close together. Gatherings
are cozier near the beginning.
- Take a moment. Go to a place with a mirror - the
best-case scenario is a well-appointed powder room; the worst case
is a small mirror you carry in your briefcase or bag for this
purpose. Make sure you are at your best, or at least not entirely
disheveled. Finish up with a few deep breaths.
These steps ensure that you have a successful plan before you meet
- Check out the nametag table. Early arrival ensures
most nametags have not yet been picked up, allowing you to check
for attendance of those you know or want to meet.
- Linger by the crudits. Hanging out by the food is
a good standby, particularly if you skipped dinner (but don't
arrive starving, then succumb to inhaling everything within reach).
Food stations offer a temporary place, purpose, and talking point.
Just take small enough bites to be able to respond to others
without a major time lapse for chewing.
- Scan the room. Position yourself somewhere between
the outskirts and the inner circles to obtain a good view of the
maximum number of attendees. Conduct a slow visual scan. Look for
those you know and those who seem approachable.
- Get in line. Lines provide a fine alternative to
standing around alone. Conversation openers with fellow line mates
include asking about work, origin of an interesting name, or what
brought them to the event. Completing your time in the line
provides a built-in closer - exchange contact information and be on
- Make eye contact. Good eye contact conveys an
interest in others while increasing their positive perceptions of
you. Eye contact also disciplines you to stay focused.
- Be an open target. Make yourself approachable.
Maintain a pleasant expression. Standing-only tables are magnets
for solitary folks open to conversation.
These tips in the strategy will help you make the most of your time
at the event.
- Focus on others. To many, interacting with
strangers is one of the least appealing aspects of networking. The
most common reason being, "I have no idea what to talk about!" You
don't have to. People appreciate thoughtful questions. Displaying
interest makes others like you. Sample openers include:
- What kind of work do you do? What do you like doing in your
- What interesting projects are you working on?
- How was your day?
- Do you have plans for [this weekend, vacations, or the summer]?
- Do you want to join me in checking out the appetizers?
- Schedule recharge breaks. Socializing can deplete
energy reserves. Head out for a breather, step away to refresh,
decompress on a brisk walk, or check messages.
- Mitigate sensory overload. Particularly at major
multifaceted events, there can be many rooms and a lot going on.
Take a walk around to get the lay of the land. Hydrate to keep
clear. Let go of what you should do.
- Visit the information table. Event organizers
often display information about products or services. Perusing
pamphlets allows you to learn about your hosts, provides
conversation ideas, and gives you the opportunity to pause.
- Write it down. Note pertinent information on
business cards of new acquaintances. Do not overestimate your
future memory capacity. Include:
- Name, with correct pronunciation hints
- Event location and date
- Personal facts (family, birthday, upcoming travel, interests,
and so forth )
- Brief conversation summary
- Intended follow-up
Jotting notes also provides built-in time away from continual
- End conversations gracefully. Don't allow a
conversation to fizzle out past its prime. You also want to avoid
making others feel trapped talking with you. Smile and say:
- May I have your card? It was great meeting you.
- Have you met [colleague passing by]?
- I'm going to freshen up.
- I need to make a call.
- I've enjoyed our conversation! Thank you.
- I look forward to following up.
- I promised myself I'd circulate - I better walk around.
- I'm sure you want to talk with others; I won't hold you up.
If you claim to be headed somewhere, really go. A positive
demeanor, light-hearted tone, and friendly smile are critical.
- Plan your escape. Have a departure plan. If you
are tied into other people's schedules, find a place to wait while
they finish up. You are not at your best when you overstay your
capacity to be on.
- Know when to split. Leave before you burn out,
when you have accomplished your goals, and before you feel like
you're swirling around a giant drain. Prepare what to say when you
are ready to depart.
In my case, I've noticed saying, "I am a consultant," does the
trick. Eyes haze over as a yawn is barely suppressed. I am ditched
in no time.
Adapted from Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field
Guide for Introverts, The Overwhelmed, and The Underconnected
(Berrett-Koehler/ASTD Press 2010).
Devora Zack is president of Only Connect
Consulting; firstname.lastname@example.org .