by Sarah Wilkinson, Class of ’17
We’ve all likely been there: a big room full of strangers and you’re expected to go make talk to them. This is networking, and yes, you need to do it if you want to be successful. You can mingle and be comfortable doing it because there are things you can do to make it less daunting.
Learning to Mingle
Consider bringing a friend with you so you have someone in those first scary moments to make you feel comfortable. But beware! Don’t spend all your time with your friend, otherwise going to the networking event was a waste of time.
Start out talking to other students or people you know so you can ease into it. It’s also a great idea to look at an attendance list ahead of time and pick out a few people you definitely want to talk to.
There’s one hold-up: what do you say when you walk up to them? This is where your elevator pitch comes in. If you want to keep it simple, follow this format: “Hi, I’m Sarah Wilkinson. I’m a Professional Writing major at Champlain College looking to go into publishing.” This is enough to get the conversation started and let the other person know a little bit about how you two could help each other out in the future.
If you act friendly and confident, people will buy it. Whatever you do, don’t stand around and talk to nobody.
Keeping the Conversation Going
Bring a list of questions or talking points you might have for professionals in your industry, that way, you don’t fizzle out awkwardly after you introduce yourself. An example of a good question is, “Do you have any advice for someone looking to break into the ___ industry?” Another is, “What do you wish you’d known when you started out?”
Don’t feel like you have to keep the conversation going forever. When you lose interest or run out of things to talk about, it’s okay to move on to someone else. When you see a break in conversation say something like, “Well, it was great to meet you. Thanks for the information about ___. I’m excited to see what a career in ___ industry will bring. Can we exchange contact info.?” Getting that contact information is crucial to following up, continuing the conversation, and establishing a new connection.
If someone isn’t getting the hint that you’re done talking, try to avoid looking around the room helplessly. Use body language and look for that break in the conversation for you to make your out. Worse comes to worse, excuse yourself to the bathroom.
Other Tips for How to Mingle
Stay away from eating food while trying to talk to somebody! Don’t drink alcohol, and don’t hold your glass of water in your shaking-hand, that way you don’t give anyone a cold, wet handshake. Not a good first impression.
After the event, send emails to those people you want to establish a connection with. Do this right afterwards so you don’t forget what you talked about with each person. Tell them you appreciated the time they took to talk to you and ask them any other questions you have. Personalize all LinkedIn invites by referencing something you talked about with each person at the event.
Essentially, be yourself, but be your best self. Be brave and confident and remind yourself that you don’t have come out of your shell this much except on special occasions. Remember to do follow-up right after the event and keep up with your new contacts or the whole effort to mingle will have been for nothing!
Source: Tufts Career Center