If you really want to be networking, it is critical to get into as many conversations as possible when at networking events. Here are a few tips that can help you to operate at an optimum level in this area.


1. Get to the event early

Whether we are going to a networking event or a social event, our natural instinct is to be fashionable late. We feel like it is best to not be the first one to walk through the door.

To get the most out of the event, ignore this thought and try to be at the event as close to the start time as possible. This will be helpful for a few reasons. First, since everybody else is following the instinct to be a little late, there is a chance you might be one of the first few people there. If this is the case, this is a really good thing as it is much easier to meet people, and when the event is less crowded as there is less competition and there are fewer existing conversations going on.

You can also engage with new contacts as they arrive at the event. This can actually allow you to take on a host role since you are established at the event and they are walking in new and maybe a little nervous (or at least not really warmed up from a networking mode standpoint).

If you can get around and meet a lot of people during the early period of the event when the traffic is light, you will then know a good handful of people and then be able to reengage with those contacts when the event is busy. Having these new contacts spread across the event will make it easier to break into established conversations.


2. Talk to the people that are standing alone

When trying to work your way into a conversation at a networking event, the low-hanging fruit is to start conversations with people who are just standing there not talking to anybody. The approach here is to walk right up and stick your hand out for a handshake and say:

Hi, how are you doing?
I am [your name]. (hand extended for handshake)[They respond with their name] What do you do? (or) Who are you with?

From there, you will likely get established into some sort of conversation. But be aware that the reason that they are not talking to someone is that they are a little uncomfortable and they might not have the social skills needed for the networking environment.

This is why they are not in a conversation with someone else. This is OK, but you may find yourself in a one-sided conversation, and you just need to know why and be prepared for that.


3. Linger around the refueling stations

When you first arrive at a networking event or if you are struggling to find a conversation, one thing you can do is go to the areas where there are beverages being served. This is a good place to find a new conversation as they are in high-traffic areas and when people go to them, they are usually alone or not in the middle of a conversation.

If you need a refreshment, you can jump in line, and at some point during the process, you can begin a conversation with the person behind you. If you don’t happen to need anything, that is OK and you can just go and linger in the general area.

Usually, right after someone fills up their coffee or gets a drink from the bar, there is a brief moment where they collect themselves or take a sip of their drink. This is a good opportunity for you to walk right up and say:

Hi, how are you doing?
I am [your name]. (hand extended for handshake)[They respond with their name] What do you do? (or) Who are you with?


4. Interrupt an existing conversation

An important thing to be aware of is that the real high-value targets at a networking event will likely be in existing conversation most of the time. The only way to get with them is to time it just right where they are alone, which is very difficult, or interrupt an existing conversation.

Interrupting a conversation is fairly tough and uncomfortable to do. But here is a step-by-step process to make it not only easier, but also remove all of the “rudeness” from the interruption.

Before we get to the process, let me just point out a couple of things about the people that you are going to interrupt:

  • They likely do not know each other, so it is not some special moment
  • They are likely not talking about anything private, important, or serious
  • They are probably in the middle of some sort of explanation or thought at the time when you want to walk up
  • They likely do not have any opinion of who you are (do not see you as below or above them in terms of status at the event)

To sum that up, your challenge here is a timing one in terms of being slightly late or a little early. This is not an issue of interrupting something that is important, or trying to break into an exclusive circle or group.

If you would have walked up at the beginning or end of the conversation, you could slide right in. The issue here is that you can’t just walk around trying to time it right. In order to get into more conversations, and into the right conversations, sometimes you will have to break your way into existing networking conversations.

Step 1 – Apology and explanation
Walk right up to the group and say this:

Hey guys, I am sorry to interrupt. I am just trying to meet most of the people here and just wanted to introduce myself to you all real quick.

This works best with groups of two. If the group is larger than two, you can approach one person in the group who appears to not be as active in the existing conversation and try to talk to them directly without interrupting the main group discussion.

Step 3 – Introduction
Try to get a quick introduction exchange to both parties in the group.

To the contact closest to you:

I am [your name]. (hand extended for handshake)[They respond with their name] Who are you with? (Ask this instead of inquiring about what they do as the answer can be very short)

To the second contact:

Hi, I am [your name]. (hand extended for handshake)[They respond with their name] Who are you with? (Ask this instead of inquiring about what they do as the answer can be very short)

Note that you are not going to say anything about who you are with. This will be a very quick exchange of names and asking who they are with.

Step 4 – False Exit
The key part of this is a false exit. This is what eliminates the rudeness of the interruption. It goes like this:

Well, it was nice to meet both of you. Again I apologize for the interruption. (a little body language that shows you leaning or turning away)

At this point, the contacts either say it is OK and go back to their conversation, and you walk away.
Or they will say it is OK and ask you to do (or something about you) and bring you into the conversation. From there, you are then part of this conversation, or more accurately, a new conversation starts at that point, and you are part of it.

If they let you walk away, they either preferred to continue their existing conversation or did not know how to invite you into the conversation. In either of those cases, there is nothing to take personally, and you then can move on to the next conversation.