Most people are anxious about meeting others for the first time but, as with most things, a little preparation ahead of time can help.
Think about who’s likely to be in the room – this will help you prepare some conversation openers and enable you to decide what you want to achieve from the event.
If the event is about something specific, then you’re likely to meet people who have a shared interest. That interest may be a topic (eg leadership) or it may industry-specific (eg bringing together those working in a particular profession).
This makes preparation easier than an event that brings together a wide range of people (ages, backgrounds, interests).
Make sure your questions are “open” rather than “closed”. For example, “Tell me about …” “What are … “, “How is … ” questions encourage conversation whereas questions that result in Yes/No answers are conversation stoppers.
I often devise a “catch-all” question that I can fall back on. For example, some years ago I was invited to the launch of a new luxury car. My catch all question was: “So, tell me, which colour are you going to buy.” Answers included: “I’m a dealer, I hope to sell lots.” “I’ve already ordered one in red.” “If only I could afford one.” These responses opened up the conversation.
If you’re going to an event that’s linked to a particular industry sector or profession, do some background reserach about what’s happening in that sector/profession. This will help you join in the conversation. In turn, your knowledge is increased so that when you meet the next person you can say, “So and so was just saying …. What’s your take on that …?
Remember to prepare for the obvious questions people might ask you, too. These might range from a sports to politics.
Right now, the one main question is “Are you IN or OUT?” I recently attended a formal dinner with my godson who graduated last summer. He works in agriculture and animal health and during the reception everyone asked him whether farmers were IN or OUT. I was very impressed with his response “Well, the NFU says X, but I was recently at a Young Farmers event where the dicussion focused on Y and I meet individual farmers who are both IN and OUT.” Maybe he needs to move into diplomacy!
And don’t forget …. set yourself some goals. What do you want to achieve from the event? Your goals can vary from “ensure I speak to at least two people I’ve never met before” to “find someone who can connect me to (a person, an organisation)” or “to discover more about …”.
Having a goal or focus will keep you motivated, moving and mindful.
View Gwen’s video on Networking – a core skill