When I first opened my travel agency, I was on the hunt for new local clients, as any new business owner would be. What made it more difficult for me was that I was a recent transplant to Fairfield County, so I didn’t have the same local network that I had in my hometown. I figured that the best way for me to meet people would be to attend some of the many business networking events that are thrown in Fairfield County.
Well, the best way and the worst way since I am an introvert at heart and am prone to moments of awkwardness. These moments, unfortunately, are amplified when I am nervous, which I almost always am before a networking event. This has led to some really painful and uncomfortable conversations. Because of that, I’ve created the following list of tricks for myself that often help me at networking events:
1. Make sure to register ahead of time. By doing this, I’ve already committed and paid for the event ahead of time when it seems like a great idea. If I don’t sign up, it’s too easy to talk myself out of it when it’s game time.
2. Get to the bar! I’m not suggesting that you start throwing back booze – that’s actually a bad idea if you don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons. However, I find that I’m more comfortable if I have something in my hands, whether it’s a glass of wine or a glass of water. My hands then have a job and I feel much less awkward. This also gives you a moment to scope out the room and see who you would like to talk to.
3. Plan a subject to talk about. If you have one or two topics in mind that you can speak about, it helps start the initial conversation, or keeps a conversation going when you hit an awkward pause. Something that is current in the news is perfect but be careful what you choose. For example, the impeachment is not the best topic to talk about with strangers, Harry and Meghan dropping their HRH titles would be a better choice. I find when I have a plan, I’m much less likely to say something dorky to fill the gap.
4. Ask who you should meet. When you are ready to wrap up a conversation, as the person who they think you should meet next. This also helps because you can then ask them to introduce you to the person, which always helps me feel less stressed about starting the conversation.
5. Pick 2-3 good conversations to have. It freaks me out to walk into a room and see a lot of people – Strangers! – who all seem to be chatting and having a great time. It helps me to set a goal for a number of good conversations that I want to have. It’s usually 2-3. I would rather have a smaller amount of longer talks versus a lot of quick hits. Not only does this help my stress levels, but I find that I am more likely to remember the people that I talk to, and vice versa. Often times, I find that after three conversations, I haven’t passed out and am somewhat enjoying myself!
These are some ideas that have helped me feel a little more comfortable while I’m at a networking event. I am still nervous before going in to one of these events – I don’t know if that will ever go away – but these steps help me feel better about it.