How to Network When You Don’t Know Anyone in the Room
As the young professionals branch of the Austin Ad Fed, the AD2ATX team is out and about every month meeting new folks in advertising, marketing and similar industries. Our members have vastly different career goals, despite their closeness in age. Some are freelancers, some are still in school and others are the youngest old pros you’ve ever met.
Even so, they all have one thing in common—they need to network. That’s because networking is a vital part of every professional’s career, regardless of age.
But what if you’re new in town, or your coworkers can’t tag along to that hip-looking happy hour? We’ve gathered a few of our best tips to help you get loose and make the most out of networking events—even when you don’t know a single soul!
Don’t feel out of place.
Keep in mind, happy hours are usually organized by groups whose sole purpose is to get likeminded people in a room together. They want you there. This isn’t a case of you crashing a stranger’s party. It’s actually the opposite. To the organizers, every person in the room is a guest of honor—you included!
“Most people there don’t know the people they are talking to either!” said AD2ATX board member Kayleigh Nance.
Find an organizer.
If you’re not immediately sure where to start, try looking for an information table or someone with an official badge.
“A well-planned event will have someone to greet you, provide a name tag and point you in the right direction,” former AD2ATX president Dax Patton said.
At our happy hours, we have several board members mingling all night, so there’s always someone to talk to. Many other organizations are similar, so seek out a representative that can help you meet someone new, or tell you more about their cause.
Just start talking!
“There’s nothing more terrifying than approaching a table or group where you don’t know anyone.”AD2ATX Director At Large Ellen Cox said. “This is where confidence, even if you have to fake it, becomes your greatest asset.”
And it’s true—it can be hard to start a conversation when you’re surrounded by strangers! AD2ATX Communications Committee Co-Chair Maureen Chunta experienced this herself when her co-worker bailed before a big networking luncheon the two were supposed to attend together.
Don’t forget that you’re not the only person there to network.
“My internal dialogue was setting me up to be a networking hermit,” she said. “Fortunately, a girl next to me looked nice and approachable and I started making awkward conversation about the lunch buffet. It turned out that we had a mutual friend, which made it easier to keep conversation going. Fast forward a few years later and I ended up being on the AD2ATX board with her, which made it much easier to meet new people on the board! Even though breaking the ice is intimidating, I’m always rewarded in the long run when I see a networking connection at another event and have a familiar face to say hello to.”
Don’t forget that you’re not the only person there to network. Everyone else is looking for someone to chat with, too! If you’re having trouble breaking into the conversation, try giving the person closest to you a genuine compliment. Then, ask them where they work and what they do.
You could also ask about their involvement with the group that organized the event. Ask how they heard about it, or if they’ve come to an event like this before. You can even inquire about how long they’ve worked for their current company, if they just moved to town, etc.
Basically, if you have an opening, take it! People are very rarely offended when someone jumps into a conversation unless they’re discussing something obviously personal. And at a networking event, that is rarely the case.
Avoid getting trapped.
While it’s true that the quality of your conversations is just as important as the quantity of conversations you’re having, you should still aim to meet at least three or four new people at each event.
Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible to run into someone who loves to chat—or someone who barely talks at all.
If you’re looking to gracefully get out of a conversation, try excusing yourself to order food, or visit the restroom. There’s always the old, “Hey, that’s Alicia! Please excuse me while I go say hi to my imaginary friend Alicia. Nice to meet you; goodbye!”
Don’t be a clinger.
Now, take everything I just said and try not to give others a reason to use escape tactics on you! If you can tell someone is trying to end the conversation, say your goodbyes and move on to the next new acquaintance.
“It’s important to meet as many people as possible when attending any networking event,” AD2ATX Vice President Anna Whitehouse said. “I like to say I ‘make it rain orange’ because I hand out my business card to everyone! If you’re having a great conversation with someone, ask them to connect on LinkedIn or via email, then move on to the next person. Don’t forget to follow up if they give you their card.”
It could be the start of a beautiful new business relationship!
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