I am petrified before attending any event!! There, I said it. Mixers, happy hours, cocktails, group dinners, you name it – the right side of my brain hates them all. Even attempting to “work the room” is equivalent to getting a root canal for me. Who to say hi to first? What does one talk about with a complete stranger? Why am I even here? My mind is fuzzy with these & many other questions, even as I attempt to fill out my name tag with an oversized marker, using my rarely-used & barely-legible handwriting, while awkwardly stooping over the registration desk.
But with experience, you learn to consult both sides of your brain. And while the right side of my brain is freaking out, the left side is reminding me of all the useful insights I have gathered, the wonderful collaborators I have met (many of whom have become close friends), & the positive energy I have taken away from these mixers, happy hours, cocktails & group dinners.
So yes, I am a self-confessed introvert who has been on a long journey of figuring out how to get myself to attend & do better at events. While I curse myself while driving over, palms sweaty, brain thinking through all the small talk I would need to be prepped for, admittedly I have been better off in my career & life after attending almost every one of those events.
Am sure you have heard of that old wisdom – “you should do what you fear the most ‘cos that’s where your growth is”. In that spirit, around the Fall of last year, I resolved to attend every good event I was invited to. But this time, I went in with an approach that I felt would work for me, incorporating all that I had observed about myself during & after these events.
Here are some ideas from this approach:
- Ask for an attendee list before the event – I figured that not knowing who I will be bumping into gives me major anxiety (yes, I am a prep-first kinda guy!). So I now ask for attendee lists upfront, so I can identify a few people I would definitely want to introduce myself to. This reduces uncertainty & guarantees at least a few interesting convos. PS: how do you do this when the guest list isn’t available, you ask? Simple – to begin with, I focus on having a good conversation with the event lead 🙂 Guarantees one valuable discussion at the minimum.
- Keep modest goals, quality over quantity – early on in my career, I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to meet the most number of people at an event, which made the whole thing really unpleasant for me. Over time, I have realized that spending focused time with a few quality people is significantly more valuable than exchanging business cards with tens of folks. So now, for an average close-knit event, my goal is to walk out with 1-3 quality connections that I can follow up with later. This reframing has been a real game-changer for me!
- For large events, set up 1:1 meetings on the sidelines – while attending large conferences, I didn’t even know where to begin, leave alone spending quality time with relevant folks. One hack I have developed is to avoid networking en masse at these conferences. I post on LinkedIn & Twitter that I am attending a particular event & then use outbound (using attendee list) + inbound (via social) to schedule 1:1 meetings on the sidelines. This takes the pressure off of working a large room & ensures a number of focused interactions.
- Connect on social post-event – events are just a lead-gen channel. The real value is in transforming these cold connections into warm relationships. Many times, in-person follow-ups are hard to schedule. I have found interacting on social (Twitter & LinkedIn) with these connections to be immensely useful in both giving us more context about each other, as well as maintaining momentum in the conversation. Personally, my social media game is much better than my events game, so this is one of my top strategies.
- Lastly, be genuinely curious! – my coach said something beautiful to me last year – “to form meaningful connections, replace judgment with curiosity”. Meeting new people with genuine curiosity, without overthinking about motives & outcomes, totally elevates the quality of human interaction. If I have to suggest just one mindset that can help you the most while meeting new connections, this is it! Whether we are introverts or extroverts, we all crave genuine human connection. And I believe that authentic curiosity is its strongest source.
This topic is very close to my heart so I hope these points are helpful as you initiate new connections at events. I am very much a work-in-progress at this, so please share your learnings too 🙏🏽
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