One of the more intimidating social interactions is entering a room full of strangers. Like the high school dance, it seems fraught with potential peril, a shunning may be right around the corner. But walking into strange places is something that you have to do all the time in order to expand your networking horizons, whether it’s a meeting, a dinner or a convention. Here are a few techniques:
The Buddy System
It’s so much easier to enter a room when you’re with someone else, almost anyone else. Why? Because everyone likes to be invited to be part of a group and when you’re with someone else to begin with, you’re a group waiting to happen. If you’re going to a networking event of a conference, try to find a colleague or a friend to go with you, at least in the beginning. Even someone you meet at the sign in table will do in a pinch.
It just helps to enter a room with a companion or a partner. Here’s what an accomplice does: First, it makes you appear not to be a total loser because you have a friend or at least they appear to be a friend. Second, you become one another’s foil, you can play off of your friend. If I go to an event and I’m with an associate or friend, when I meet someone new, I immediately introduce my associate.
Unless you are a real social butterfly and very comfortable in groups and with strangers which most people aren’t, you’re relieved when someone else introduces themselves to you. And you’re out of your mind with happiness when they introduce another person to you.
After the introduction, you can talk about yourselves as a group which is much easier to do than talking about yourself. For example, “Jim and I are programmers at Datatech. We’re working on the X-31 project, it’s an enterprise for HR departments in medium sized businesses. What brings you here tonight?” Instant group.
Hook Up With Anybody
Unlike Shirley Walters who would have embarrassed you at the high school dance, the effect won’t be the same here. In high school or even now, you may be judged and placed in the hierarchy depending on your romantic interests, this is not a social situation. It has social overtones but the underpinnings are strictly business.
Finally your opportunity to be a social slut. Hook up with the first interesting looking person you find. Don’t set your sights too high like the most beautiful woman in the room or the CEO of the Big Corp. Anybody will do. If they get bothersome, you can always ditch them later.
I always try to strike up a conversation with someone before I enter the main room or the room where the meeting is going to be. A perfect “excuse” is in the parking lot or the foyer to ask someone for the location of the event or where the room number is. Usually, unless people are total jerks, they like to help others. And, if it’s a geek event, we all know that geeks love to be experts. Of course they’re going to know where the event is and they’re probably going to hand-carry you to it to prove how smart they are. This may sound dumb, but I always try to look a little lost and a little confounded by the whole thing. I ask someone for help and voila, I’ve made a “friend”.