After hemming and hawing, you get yourself to a new networking event and immediately realize that you don’t know anyone there. Maybe you just changed jobs, fields or homes, maybe you’re just trying something new, maybe you even knew what you were getting into.
No matter what, one thing is for sure: you feel alone.
Forcing away memories of middle-school dances, you get up the guts to mingle. You make small talk, you hand out business cards, you ask questions. But somehow you leave at the end feeling even more alone than when you arrived.
You leave feeling like a you, not like a we...
As a professional, flying solo offers a valuable challenge. It forces us out of the comfort zone, helps us brush up on networking skills, and reminds us that we each have all the agency needed to start conversations with anyone we meet.
As networking event organizers and returning participants, it’s important to strike a balance. We’re still creatures of comfort and we find it easier to just yak it up with folks we already know. But we also need to actively support newcomers and make sure we’re helping them feel as welcome as we do.
Are we finding new(er) attendees and introducing them to our regulars?
Are we sharing concrete information to help them grow a network?
Are we engaging them in true community-building efforts?
We all talk the talk about how friendly we are here in the ICR (Iowa City / Cedar Rapids), but in such a tight-knit community it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming everyone else must already know all the same people we do. Let’s make sure we walk the walk, too, and show off what an open and welcoming community the Corridor can be.
Empower someone to officially welcome folks as they arrive at your event and make sure any newcomers know what to expect.
Nominate a core group of regulars to act as networking buddies for new attendees — the greeter can point people right to them.
Breaking the ice can be as simple as a friendly facial expression.
Verbally invite someone new into your group conversation.
Try to avoid closed circles in group conversations, leaving room lets people know they can join in.
Remembering names is tough -- even when you should already know them! -- so help everyone out by saying someone’s name when you’re talking to them.
Whether you’re a featured presenter or just sharing about another event, (re-)introduce yourself and give enough details about places, events, or ideas that someone who’s never heard of them would still know enough to find out more.
If you offered to make intros or send some info via email, make the time to do so -- especially if the person follows back up with you first!
In the end, this all comes down to mindfulness and leading by example at the networking events we plan and attend. Thinking through your group’s values will help build a stronger event experience — not to mention give you great content to post in your group’s description or even display during your event.
If you help people know they’ll feel welcome before they even show up, and follow through on that promise when they arrive, then they won’t just come to attend, they’ll come to join.
How have people made you feel welcome in new professional communities and environments?
What other strategies do you use to make people feel more welcome at networking events?
What advice do you have to help networking newcomers overcome the “awkward intro” phase?
As always, thanks for taking the time to connect with us here at Corridor Connection Network. We look forward to seeing you in person around the ICR as well all try to Find. Share. Engage.
I’m not about to share anything we don’t already know, at least on some level, but I will share it in a way that will help us see relationships a little different...