3 simple tactics to stop dreading networking events

Networking events suck.

I have said so myself in the past. And if I'm being honest, I still dodge most invitations to business gatherings.

My friend is a lawyer, and she was invited to an after-work event with other people of her profession in a Parisian bar.

She confessed:

"I'm afraid that everybody will know some people there and I will be alone. I'm not sure how to approach people cold."

Networking events are uncomfortable places for regular peopleā€”that is, people who aren't at the far end of the extraversion spectrum.

Regular people like us can still improve the experience using simple tactics.

I'm about to share three super practical things to do the next time you attend a networking event. Follow this framework, and I promise that your experience will improve considerably.

1. Reach out to the organizer the day before

I won't bury the lead. Here's the best hack from this framework.

Email the person organizing a few days before the event (2-3 days is a good target). Their email address is generally easy to find. Better yet, they expect to receive questions from attendees.

Write a short intro and tell them it will be your first time attending this gathering.

Then, ask a relevant question about the event.

If I attend a networking event in Sweden, I may email the organizer to ask if speaking English during the roundtable discussion is acceptable.

Or I might ask if they know if some other tech entrepreneurs will attend the event.

You can also offer your help, especially if this event is organized by volunteers. They will appreciate that.

Why are we doing this?

Of course, it helps to form a clearer representation of what will happen at the event. But that's not the main reason.

The main reason we are doing this is to pre-build a relationship with someone who will be at the gathering. And not just anyone: the person who wants this event to be a success.

On the day of the event, you will keep an eye out for this person. When they become available, go and introduce yourself.

Shake their hand, say your name, and share something nice about the event.

Congrats! You have talked to your first stranger at this event. Now, ask them who they think you should talk to, and they will introduce you.

If you pick only one thing to apply from this framework, I recommend it to be this one.

2. Your mission: find isolated people

It's hard to "know" what to do at a networking event.

You may think, "I need to find new clients," or cofounder, business partner, etc.

But that's vague. You need a more practical goal.

I'll give you one: your only job is to find people who look uncomfortable and talk to them.

I opened this essay by saying that most people find these social contexts uncomfortable. They ease this tension by talking to people they already know.

But I have yet to see a medium or large social gathering where everybody knows somebody. There will inevitably be people like you and me who don't know anyone there.

So, what do you do? You go and hunt for them. Look for people alone, maybe looking at their phones unfocused. They are not doing anything on their phones; they are just covering up their social discomfort.

Have you found someone? Great. Now approach them, extend your hand while saying hello and your name, and wait for them to share theirs. Then say, "It's my first time here, and I know no one. Have you been here before?"

Congrats! You have now talked to a second stranger. And, by being a bit vulnerable and sharing your discomfort, you have created an opportunity for them to experience relief from this awkward experience.

3. Bring someone you know

This hack is my least favorite because of the risk of you sticking to this person.

However, if you dread a networking event that you know you should join, bring a friend.

Follow this framework's second piece of advice and look for uncomfortable people to approach. Invite them to join your little group of misfits!

Bonus: put a bit more work before the event

I shared that you should email the event organizer a few days prior.

While this is the easiest person to reach, there's no reason not to do the same with a few attendees. If the guest list is public, finding their addresses will only take a bit of research. If not, try to search online for people who have commented on previous event posts.

Email them and tell them this will be your first time. Ask them how to make the most of the event.

Then, on the day, look for them and introduce yourself!