This is going to be a multi-part series, starting with Part 1 here focusing on how to actually start conversations and get some new contacts at a networking event. It can be tough, especially if you’re not particularly outgoing and social.
Rely on Easy Conversation Starters
This may sound a bit silly, but if you’re feeling a little apprehensive about starting a conversation with someone you don’t know, there are two classic ways to do so without needing to actually just walk up and introduce yourself: stay near the food or use compliments. When you’re standing in line for drinks or food at a networking event it is pretty easy to turn to the person next to you and ask them if they know what something is, where they found the plate, or if they’ve tried a certain dish yet without much pressure. Then, it is even easier to turn that into a more formal introduction once you’ve already broken the ice. Another way to break the ice in a similar way is to complement someone. Who doesn’t love being told you like their earrings or t-shirt? Start a conversation about something someone is wearing and then introduce yourself.
Bring or Find a Friend
Usually, the one person you really want to talk to at a networking event is also the person everyone else wants to talk to too.
It can feel pretty awkward to stand slightly behind them staring off into space while they finish a conversation and you try not to eavesdrop. So don’t. Instead, try to find someone to walk around with early on or bring a friend with you. Instead of staring into space, you can stand near that coveted new potential contact talking to someone you already know as you wait. Or, if you’re a little more brave you can start a conversation with someone else waiting to talk to the same person. You’ll get two new contacts out of it and feel a little less awkward.
Business Cards are a Must
The easiest way to get a business card from someone at a networking event is to offer one up of your own. The person you are talking to will usually return the favor. So be sure to create your own business cards and bring them with you. Not sure what to put on it or where to get them? Check out my post specifically covering business cards for students, interns, and recent grads What to Put on a Business Card.