Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mingling For Shy People

Singles Networking Event 18
Photo credit: Freelancers Union
I've been going to a lot of networking events lately looking for freelance writing clients. The great thing about events that are meant to bring strangers together is that there's no need for social anxiety. EVERYONE there is alone, and at risk of feeling like the odd man out. 

But that doesn't mean people still don't have anxiety about situations like this. 

Early in my career I went to a cocktail work thing with a group of people who needed to be working the room, convincing everyone there that to like us and be happy that we'd been hired to do the job we were there to do. Most or all of these people complained about how much they hate these things on the way there, and declared that they'd put in an appearance and leave as soon as they could. In fairness, they were probably overwhelmed because their first day on the job involved flying out to Chicago and this was only a day or two later. But I decided right then that I wasn't going to be afraid of a little mingling. Because I felt nothing but scorn for those people and I wasn't going to be like that. Ever.

So I got a copy of The Art of Mingling (it's since been updated, so possibly the author has invented new mingling techniques) and became a mingling gladiator. (I got #4 from the book, but I can't remember any of her other tactics.)

So here are my tips:

  1. Find someone who's alone and go talk to them. This is the single most important mingling tip ever. Use it everywhere--parties, networking events, etc. In such situations, it it universally acknowledged that anyone not in possession of a conversation partner is in need of one. They'll be so relieved to have someone to talk to that they'll just love you to pieces.
  2. If you can't find anyone who's alone, break into a group by standing next to them until someone notices you and invites you into the conversation. This is easier in a networking event than a party, but it works.
  3. Make your way towards the bar. Or anywhere else where it's too crowded to move. It's not pleasant, but you can start a conversation by catching someone's eye and saying, "I can't move. Let's talk!" Also, this gives you a purpose--first, you're moving towards the bar, then you;'re trying to get away from the scrum. 
  4. Have a few opening lines/conversational tactics in mind. In most situations, I start with, "Hi, I'm Jen," and go from there. For business networking, I have my business pitch, explaining what I do, and I ask the other person about their business. At some events, people put their industry on their name tags, so maybe I'll tease them about how vague theirs is ("tech startup" "finance") and ask for details. Or I'll ask a question based on it, like "What do you do in fashion?" A lot of people see that I have "Writer" on my name tag, and will ask what sort of things I write. Comments on how loud and/or crowded the event is also make good conversational lubricant. If you're at a birthday party where the only person you know is the birthday girl, you can ask everyone, "How do you know Tracy?" If the birthday party is at a bar, don't be surprised if they don't know Tracy, but go ahead and ask anyway. I was at a party where I would've sworn everyone there knew the birthday girl, but when I asked the guy waiting behind me on the line for the bathroom, he had no idea what I was talking about.
  5. When someone hands you a business card--Look at it! I have made the rookie mistake of not looking many times. Then later on, I look at the card and have no image of who gave it to me. Searching Linked In helps, but I've also been left wondering if someone handed me someone else's card by mistake. Also? Commenting on their card is something else to talk about. I designed my own cards and love getting compliments on them. 
Another great networking tip, given to me by pro organizer and networking maven Amy Neiman (and old friend of my cousin), who I ran into at my first networking event, is to categorize the business cards you've collected on the way home. 1 or A for leads, 2 or B for connections/potential referrals and so on. I keep my cards in the box from my old business cards, separated by cards with wee tiny clothespins from the dollar store. I have a third category for blog contacts and a fourth for clients (whee!).

Any questions? Got any networking/mingling tips that I missed? Share 'em in the comments.


  1. AARRRHHHGGGGHHH! Just the word "mingle" gives me ridiculous amounts of anxiety, but I really, really like the idea of finding someone who is alone and approaching him/her. Probably that person is feeling as out of sorts as you are, right?

    1. Exactly. It's like finding that one gazelle that's wandered off from the herd. Or going for the low-hanging fruit.

  2. This was a very timely post for me. I was just at a networking event and kind of sucked. I am just starting to get into this realm, so I will likely be referring to this post over and over again! Thanks!!


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