I was at an association networking event recently and, instead of circulating and meeting people, which I usually do, I sat and watched others meet and greet. Here’s what I learned. One-third of the people spoke only to the bartender. Another third formed glued together groups of four, obviously longstanding friends or acquaintances. Three or four newcomers talked to no one. Another dozen people ate and drank by themselves. Since tickets cost $100 — no banquet food is worth that — why weren’t they circulating? Also this was billed solely as a networking event a.k.a. no speaker. Can you imagine eating and drinking alone in a crowd for three hours?
People come to such events unprepared and expect rescue. Someone should approach them and start a conversation. It’s not going to happen because, aside from people running for office, the rest of us are shy or exceedingly shy. Unless you stomp on someone’s toe they are mute. They wouldn’t be if they prepared as follows:
1. Scan the day’s news, especially anything industry related so they could start a conversation with, “Did you see the news today…?”
2. Looked at member biographies so they’d know who they wanted to talk to and who might be interested in them.
3. Played the game of “how many business cards can I get from people I will remember?”
4. When they picked up their nametags they asked for a member of the hospitality committee to introduce them to a few people.
If you are unwilling to do any of these things, stay home. Clearly your desire to meet and mingle doesn’t exist. Even desperate job hunters lose the power of conversation. No affiliation is enough to get people to self introduce even when they see the long-term value of enlarging their contact bases. Don’t kid yourself that you will be transformed as you step over the threshold from mute to effusive.
Of my strategies, clearly number four is the best. You could even email the program committee and explain you haven’t been active in the group and would love to be introduced to some of the members. This is not a shocker. Every realist knows he or she isn’t going to break into a group in mutual admiration. Still, that realist (sic) shows up without a game plan. Don’t let that be you.
A final strategy that does make people talk to you: I have my college fight song as the ring tone on my I-phone. When it plays anywhere, but especially at an airport, anyone from my school or a rival who hears it, comes over to talk. I’ve had interesting conversations with dozens of people I would never have approached, not to mention business leads and they did the heavy lifting!