Showing up at an event always makes me nervous – especially one where I don’t know anyone. Even though I’m an extrovert, I still experience twinges of social anxiety the moment before I open the door to wherever I’m going. In that split-second, I just want to run home.
But showing up in person reaps so many benefits that you can’t get on your couch staring at your computer, no matter how witty your social media posts are.
This week, I paid attention to what helps me feel a teeny bit more comfortable showing up for events where I don’t know many people. Maybe one of these ideas will help you make your public appearances that much more fun and fruitful.
Step One: Prepare
Before the event, do a little Internet research (less than 10 minutes) to remind yourself the purpose of the event, the venue, the organization that’s hosting and so on. Then, google some of the people you’re expecting to see. This will help when you need a conversation topic. Referring to someone's latest project is a great way to start a conversation.
Step Two: Find the loners
The worst moment at an event is when everyone’s paired off with someone in intense conversation and you find yourself the only person balancing your appetizer plate and wine glass pretending to be fascinated with the view out the window.
Whatever you do at this awkward moment, don't check your phone. It will put you in a silo and nobody will approach you.
You could sidle up to the one person you know and hope she takes pity on you and includes you in her conversation. If she doesn’t, you’re likely to stand there pretending to be super interested in a conversation that’s already underway. Better yet, find another person who’s also standing alone and go stand next to him. Then, ask him a question. It could be as simple as: What’s your connection to this event?
When the conversation with this person winds down, there’s often an awkward moment when it’s clear both of you are ready to move on but nobody wants to make the first move to say goodbye. When that happens, I either ask them another question, like “What are you working on these days?” if I want to keep talking. Or, if I’m really done, I say something like, “I’m going to go get another glass of wine (or check out the view.) It was so great meeting you.”
If this is a person I want to connect with again, I’ll offer my business card and ask him if he has one. This helps with Step 3.
Step Three: Follow up
The morning after the event, think about who you enjoyed meeting and find them on social media. Send a friend request or follow them. To find them, however, you either need: a great memory for names or to have snagged a business card. (See Step Two.)
You can also send an email with a message like: “Great meeting you at the XXX event. I enjoyed hearing about your XXXX. Please put me on the invite list to your launch party for the novel. Looking forward to crossing paths sometime soon.”
To be ultra classy and memorable, follow up with an actual note with a stamp on it that you mail in a mailbox. Remember those?
Making friends and building meaningful relationships with colleagues goes one person at a time. Do a little research ahead of time, expect awkwardness, seek out others with nobody to talk to, and follow up. You may never become an extrovert, but you can learn to act like one when you need to.
Photo by Samuel Zeller