I attend a LOT of networking events. I attend them not because I have to, or because I nurture subconscious masochistic tendencies, as someone who hates networking events might assume. With few exceptions, I actually really like networking events. They satiate my innate desire for meeting new people and gathering new information. Whether they're schmoozey, boozey, or just plain boring, these events always grant the opportunity for me to get to know at least one incredible person that I'd never meet otherwise. Sometimes -- and this is a best-case scenario -- I even make a new friend, someone I can help and build a relationship with. And who doesn't love new friends?
No one, that's who. But sometimes we make the mistake of appearing like we don't want to make new friends. Like we don't want to talk to someone. Like we want to exclude people from our circle, both literally and figuratively.
You know what I'm talking about. You've been alone at an event, surrounded by strangers, pretending to fervently type out an important message on your phone, all while stealing furtive glances at all the clusters of conversations, trying to discern if you can -- or want to -- try to insert yourself among them. Will you be welcomed? Will you be shunned? Will you feel awkward? Will you feel wanted?
Humans are driven by a desire for connection and acceptance: a desire for friendship. This strong desire has an equal yet opposite counterpart: the fear of rejection. You feel it, and so does everyone else, whether they admit it to themselves or not. By calming this fear in yourself and others, you take the first step towards establishing a friendship. But how do you do that?
- Practice expressing open body language. Uncross your arms. Turn your shoulders and feet towards the person who has your attention. Smile. Nod. Your body language not only impacts how others perceive you, but it also impacts how you feel and who you really are. Opening your body language will make others view you as more welcoming and safe, and in turn will make you feel more generous and friendly.
- Put your phone away and make eye contact. If you're a texting or Twittering addict, you may have developed a habit of only halfway engaging with the other people in the same room you are. If you simply commit to not checking or looking at your phone unless you absolutely have to, you will immediately become more present and more charismatic. The people you speak to will sense that you are truly mindful and engaged with them, and they'll respond in turn.
- Seek out opportunities to welcome others into your conversation. Without interrupting your conversation partners or looking around distractedly, keep an eye out for stragglers who may be attempting to introduce themselves. Whenever possible, introduce yourself to them, then introduce those you're speaking to. Make them feel immediately included by inviting them to comment on the topic at hand, saying something like, "We were just talking about blah blah. What do you think about that?"
I try to make sure I do these three things at every networking event I attend. They're relatively simple habits to build into your routine, and they offer powerful results. These habits can take a fearful strangers and make them into a confident community.
How do you maintain openness at networking events? Let me know in the comments. I'd love to learn and share your tips and tricks.