How to Network and Mingle at Events

Some of this article is based on information from Susan RoAne's book, How to Work a Room.

"Don't talk to strangers."   "Wait to be properly introduced."

You may have grown up with these sayings but these admonitions often prevent us from meeting people in business, career and social situations.  However, with some preparation and practice, you can overcome your reluctance to meet people in any situations. Developing "business relationships" is an important skill for all college graduates as they transition from college to work and throughout your careers.  So, what do you need to to know to network effectively:

1. Change your thinking and your behavior. 
Sometimes self-talk inhibits us from reaching out to others.  Have you had these thoughts?

  • No one wants to talk with me, I'm only a student.
  • I don't know what to talk about.
  • I've always had trouble meeting people.
  • These people are important.  I don't want to waste their time.

These kind of thoughts don't help us.  In fact, they inhibit us from often taking advantage of the opportunity to meet people who may be able to share important information.  Many times, this "I'll wait to see if someone comes up to me" attitude has us waiting around and getting frustrated.  We need to think positive and change our ideas about how to operate in group situations.  Here are some things to remember:

  • People like to talk about themselves.
  • People often are flattered when you show an interest in them.
  • People reciprocate one's sincere interest.
  • You won't waste people's time.  If they don't want to talk, they'll move on.  Don't take it personally, move on too.
  • You can change your behavior - even if you tend to be more quiet and reserved.
  • You have more to offer than you think - you just need to believe that too.

2. Redefine the term "stranger."

  • Instead of thinking of how "different" you are from people, think of the commonalities of people at an event. 
  • Use these commonalities as the basis for conversation.  Listen to the conversation to identify/discover additional commonalities.

3. Practice an introduction.

Many people feel tongue-tied with the thought of starting a conversation.  This usually comes from not knowing "how" to get a conversation started.  Begin by introducing yourself and tell the person something about yourself that identifies a common thread.

  • Prepare an introduction that is clear, interesting and well-delivered.  What you say in your introduction depends on the kind of event but should be brief in nature.  Here are some examples:

An example to use for a Networking/career fair:

"Hi, my name is Alex Smith and I'm a student at the College of Saint Benedict.  I'm excited about this opportunity to learn more about opportunities in advertising in the St. Cloud area."

An example to use at a career panel:            

"Hello.  My name is Alex Smith and I'm a student at Saint John's University.  I'm interested in knowing more about what kinds of careers history majors have gone into."

  • Practice your self-introduction so that you feel natural and comfortable.

4. Be actively engaged in the process.

  • Assume responsibility for making yourself comfortable.
  • Approach others for self-introduction.
  • Feel free to include others in your conversation (once you've met someone and talked awhile, introduce your acquaintance to someone else).

5. Risk rejection.

Sometimes it happens.  Some people just may not respond to your introduction.  Don't take it personally-just move on.  Continue to be outgoing and friendly and try again.  Have a sincere interest in others and plan ahead:

  • Identify what you want to accomplish at the networking event before you go.
  • Treat everyone as you would like to be treated.
  • Have a sense of humor.
  • Physically move around the room - don't just sit or stand in one place and expect people to come to you.