7 Easy Networking Tips to Survive those “Festive-Themed”​ Business Events

In a land where we celebrate almost everything (sports wins can also be a public holiday), combined with a racially diverse population, there are bound to be times where you’re invited to a few festive-themed business network events.

Now, these are just the same plain vanilla networking events you’ve gone to. But I guess the organizers are trying to be more “trending with the times”, and add an additional reason to celebrate the festivities and network for business at the same time.

Before you say anything, yes, for those of us who are natural introverts, going to these events is a total dread.

Meeting strangers? Yikes!

Talking to random strangers? Double Yikes!

Being left alone in a corner feeling totally left out and awkward? What have I gotten myself into again? Screw this new year’s resolution of attending more networking events! Damn it! I hate my life!

But here’s the thing: you and I know networking events can open up doors of opportunities. Your next big break you’d been waiting for could be a friend of a random person you met at the next event!

Now, I’m not saying you should forcefully attend all events, but to not attend anything at all, you’re missing out on something even online networking communities find it hard to replicate:

The Magic of Serendipity

You see, when you’re networking online (which you should totally do as well), you’re never 100% engaged.

Think about it: you probably have a couple of browser tabs opened, a couple of messenger windows on the side, with 182 blinking notifications all happening at the same time, while the latest Netflix episodes are streaming in a small corner of your screen.

Serendipity doesn’t happen in those situations because you’re simply not vested enough.

But when you’re in a live networking event, and you commit yourself to be active, you are 100% present. Your senses are perked scanning the room. Your observation power dialed up to the max because you want to find ways to start and continue conversations. Your heart beats faster because you have a mix of anxiety, anticipation, and nervousness all thrown into the blender.

And with the majority of the people are feeling the same way (despite they looking cool as a cucumber), weirdly, some magic starts to happen.

Someone whom you would otherwise never reach out to on LinkedIn turned out to be one of your closest business friends in years to come.

A random introverted intern being dragged to the event can be your next hire.

A senior lady fumbling to balance her plate of titbits, drinks and a stack of name cards could be the mentor you had been looking for.

How do I know?

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum.

As a natural introvert, I force myself to attend selected networking events. I can give you many reasons, but for one, some individuals are just not active online, but goes to physical events. How else would you be able to “bump” into them, other than stalking their homes and lurking around the office corner? (Disclaimer: Spoken NOT from experience)

That’s me as a participant in these events, and because of the Magic of Serendipity, I often meet amazing people who became friends or even clients sometime later!

On the other hand, I’ve also run a few events over the past few years. From small, cozy round room discussion on entrepreneur depression, to monthly meet-ups of over 500 people. And it’s impossible to put a number to the countless times I’ve witnessed the magic of serendipity happen just because you put random people in a confined space.

It’s just proof that human beings are naturally wired to connect.

Ok, if you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve sold you on the importance of networking for business (done strategically, of course).

For the rest that had been sold since the title of the article, well, at least you get to hear about the magic of serendipity, eh? You’re probably nodding along thinking about those connections you’ve “randomly” made over the years.

Let’s get to the meat of this piece: how to “game” the networking game, using these time-tested, easy-to-implement and introvert-friendly strategies.

#1. Get a Wingman

Just like dating, having a wingman along for those “scary” networking events will help ease you into the groove. Ask a favor from a friend who’s a natural at networking with strangers, explain the context and the help you need.

You may also want to have a pre-game briefing, especially on how your wingman can introduce you. Give him or her some keywords or phrases that can immediately “T” you up when they bring you into the conversation.

In my case, it will be something like, “Hey, Mr. X, you’re running a brick-and-mortar business, right? Then you really need to talk to my man Maverick here. He specializes in bringing offline business online!”

Most extroverts are the life of the party, and bringing one along with you is a sure way you’ll meet as many people as he/she does. Just tag along for the first few conversations until you’re comfortable.

#1a. Be a Wingman

Once you’ve got the groove of things, look out for other introverts like you, and if they are open, return the favor. Remember that awkward tech geek that holds a drink whole night, shyly scanning the room looking to start a conversation but immediately breaks eye contact when the chance presents themselves?

That kid could be the next big techwiz, and you’re his wingman.

#2. Look For Familiar Faces

If you can’t get a wingman or wingwoman (is there such a thing?), look for familiar faces to ease you into the flow of things. You can quickly scan through the registration lists, or even do some homework before the event.

Trust me, you’re ok to start a conversation with a random stranger. You’ve done it numerous times before. But some of us, well, the “engine” takes some time to start, and the familiar faces will help jumpstart it and shift it into 2nd gear for you.

#3. Politely Ask to Join A Conversation

Dang! No Wingman/wingwoman, and no familiar faces!

You got that tingling urges of regret and suddenly, the thought of going home to curl up with your phone is super enticing. #grabfood

No! You’re already there, so make it count! #slap

Scan the room again, and look for groups of 3 or more engrossed in conversation. Walk over, listen a little to what they are talking about, and courteously ask (make your mom proud please) if you can join.

Frankly, I’ve done this so many times and have seen many done it, and even facilitated it by bringing someone random into a group conversation, and let me tell you, no one has ever said “No” before.

Not only have you gotten your “engine” started, but you did it with a group! Within the group, look for anyone who can be an ad-hoc wingman/wingwoman and followed them around for the next few conversations they hop to.

And #boom, before you know it, you’ve spoken to more than a handful of people before the event even starts! Now are you glad you stayed?

#4. Research About The Event

I probably should have started with this, but I thought the wingman sounds like a better hook. 🙂

If you’ve yet to master the art of impromptu speaking, you may want to read up a little about the events you’re going, and what’s the audience make-up like. Are they working professionals? Senior leaders? Specialists? Business owners? Philanthropists? Tech Wizards? Social workers? Students? Delusional Startup Founder Wannabes?

Look, sometimes you may decide to ditch the wingman and “wing it”, and I’m sure you can. But you could probably walk into a launch event for a rare precious metal used in the fabrication of the space shuttle’s inner hull, which they are trying to wrap a blockchain ICO around while getting the approval from the Nigerian government to set up the manufacturing plants.

Just saying.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. – Abraham Lincoln

#5. Keep a Handy Bank of Questions

Now that you’ve researched about the event and read up about the metal used to build the trash cans on the International Space Station, and also know who generally are the attendees, you’ll have a good idea on what to expect.

List down a couple of questions you can ask most of the attendees, and it could be something trending (make sure it’s not too new because if they haven’t heard about it, they may ask you for more info, which I hope you already have!)

You see, the key to any successful interaction is the quality of questions you ask, and not always the answers you give. It’s about giving the other person a chance to “show off” his or herself, making them feel good in the process. There are instances where the person may just be as nervous as you, and the opportunity to take the stage for a short while is just the adrenaline rush they need to get them into a good mental state.

And they will love you for it.

Which brings us to the next point…

#6. Listen to Understand & Respond Rather Than Reply

The strategy for asking questions is a simple, 2-step process, whether it’s in a business event, or a date:

  1. Ask the questions
  2. Shut up & listen

When the person is replying to your question, pay full attention. You may feel the itch to say something. Don’t. Remember, it’s about them, and the more points you score with them, the more wins you’re going to get at the end of the event.

Plus, after talking so much about themselves, they may suddenly realize that they don’t know you at all, and that’s where you get their full attention. Make full use of it and say something wise, please.

Also, as you are listening to their answer, you can prompt them with more questions so they can elaborate further.

Your bag of responses can be anything from head nods and thinking-pose with hand touching your chin, to asking mini-permissions to take notes on your phone and paraphrasing what they just said by starting with “Wait, so what you mean is…”

Ok, I’m not asking you to have those responses so you can mock them.

You have to be genuine. This is serious business, yo! Those are just suggestions in case for a split second you have that sudden out-of-the-body experience where you go back to feeling nervous. Kinda like being snapped in and out of the Matrix! #matrix4

#7. Make A Transition

Look at you! You’re totally rocking it now! Screw the wingman! So who cares if there are zero familiar faces? You’ve started the ball rolling, and you’ve exchanged a couple of name cards with some new business friends!

Hate to burst your bubble, but it’s time for you to move on.

The only other thing worse about coming back empty-handed from a networking event, is to stick to ONE person/group for the ENTIRE event!

Surely, you’d want to meet more than a handful of people, right?

Knowing when, and how, to transit out of a conversation politely and gracefully is key.

First, you can’t leave your new-found friends hanging, and you’ll need to know when to inject your intention to leave. Plus, you have to give a really good “excuse” as well, without making them feel bad about themselves.

You can say something like, “Hey guys, I’ll let you carry on this conversation while I check out the booths at the back,” or if you saw a familiar face entering the room, “Hey, let me go over and say hi to a friend.”

And please, do not lie. You can only go to the washroom so many times. 🙂

CONCLUSION

Armed with these strategies, I hope the next time when you’re invited to a networking event, whether it’s festive-themed or not, and you feel the urge to come up with 72 excuses why you can’t make it, you will instead enthusiastically say YES (at least on the inside, quietly, with inner voice).

Seriously, moving forward in life it a lot like waiting for buses. You can wait at the bus stop all your life for the right bus to come around, or go where the busses are at.

That’s a lesson for me too, as being more proactive in attending networking events is one of my mini-goals of the year.

What about you? Do you have something similar on your new year resolution list too? 

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