The thing about a crowded room is, it can be hard to find a place to start meeting the movers and shakers I’m seeking.
I’ve come up with a few ways to make the most of these opportunities. All of these tips help me focus on my goal of starting good conversations.
If you’re at your wit’s end, ask the organizer to introduce you to someone they know. A host should be on the lookout for guests who look a little lost, whether at a networking event or a dinner party. They want you to have a good time, so help them help you. You might want to wait until they’re not working on the PA system.
No one wants to puppy-dog the organizer, so I don’t recommend leaning on a host too hard to navigate an event. There are plenty of other ways to break into an unfamiliar crowd.
Body language cues speak volumes about someone’s openness to conversation. Eye contact is a strong indication of who's open to talking. Imagine the difference between someone looking down at his or her phone and someone walking toward you smiling. Unless you have a good reason to interrupt someone who’s on the phone, don’t. The signal’s clear, and I’ve found better connections with the people who make themselves available.
Where people are in the room can also help get you started. The line for beverages might be a good place, since you’re stuck there anyway. The line for the bathroom, perhaps a little less so. Newcomers might linger on the edge of the room, so people might be similarly looking to strike up a conversation. Again, you can pick them out by their body language.
Starting a small conspiracy can work wonders, too. Here’s what I mean: you’re new, so why not just get that fact out into the air by introducing yourself? Worst case scenario, I find someone who’s also new, we buddy up, recruiting others to the chat, increasing the odds that I'll meet more people. Best case, I’ve introduced myself to the head of the local angel group who makes it his or her mission to help acquaint me with everyone in the community. Either way, the potential awkwardness of lurking at an event rather than participating evaporates.
From there, it’s all about being interested, not interesting, but that's another post.
Side note, I’m sort of tossed up on the question of name tags. Usually they end up in an awkward spot on my chest or hung on a lanyard that makes it just as hard to read. If someone else can resolve this design head-scratcher, I’d be grateful.