How to Network at a Social Event When You Don’t Know Anyone

How to Network at a Social Event When You Don’t Know Anyone
Image by Vincent Fournier for Henkel Advertising

Social events can be extremely anxiety-provoking for introverts. Walk into a room where I know no one? Make small talk over canapés? Can’t I just hide in a corner instead? Never fear, introverts: we can do this. Here’s how to network at a social event.

Prevention is key

Before you go to an event, try to identify who else will be there.  If you know people who plan to go, you can plan to meet there.  Email people ahead of time and make plans.   Introverts do better with structure.  If you’re entering an unstructured environment, see if you can create some planned events or tasks for yourself so the event isn’t totally unstructured.  The best way to create structure is in advance.

Find the food

Every social event has food or drinks and everyone ends up, eventually, at the food or drinks tables. Wander over to the buffet table. Scan the people who are also at the buffet table. Find someone friendly looking who is alone. Sidle up next to that person and make some small, pleasant comment about the food. Here are some good examples:

  • Everything looks so good. What do you recommend?
  • What do you think is inside those dumplings?
  • Where did you find those carrots?

Then follow up with an introduction (“Hi, I’m Maya”) or a simple, get-to-know you question like:

  • Where do you work?
  • Have you been to this event before?
  • Are you presenting at this conference?

If the person doesn’t engage in the conversation, no sweat. Just find another person and start over. Important: Don’t take this personally! You may have found another very introverted person who’s now kicking themselves for not responding well. Or it might be someone on their way somewhere, distracted by a text from their kids, or something else totally opaque.

Zigzag through the crowd

Walk once through the crowd and see if there’s anyone you do know. If you find a familiar face, go over and say hello. Catch up. Ask what they’ve been up to lately.

Take a break

It’s OK not to network at every moment. Even if there’s a room full of people you think you should meet, it doesn’t mean that you have to seize the moment. Think about it: if you’re stressed out and over-stimulated, the chances of forming a meaningful relationship are lower than if you’re feeling refreshed and energized. It’s better to do less, as an introvert, and have it be higher quality than do more superficial work. Remember, we’re not in this to get a huge stack of business cards. We’re in this to form meaningful, long-term relationships.

Find someone else who’s alone

Chances are that they’re going to welcome a conversation. Introduce yourself. You can even say something like “Hi. I’m Maya. I don’t know anyone here. How about you?”

These techniques will make parties easier, but they can’t make them painless.  For most introverts, a party where we don’t know anyone is the most challenging event possible.  Be kind to yourself, and don’t push too hard in this especially challenging situation.

Post written with Dr. Robin Bernstein.

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