We all know that networking is key to growing our contact list, building relationships, and advancing our careers. Yet no matter how important it may be, most of us don’t exactly enjoy doing it.
Why? Because most networking events are boring.
But they don’t have to be. There are ways to make even the most mundane networking events super fun. It’s all about how you approach it.
Want to know how to turn your next stuffy conference into an enjoyable experience? Here’s how to create fun networking opportunities for yourself, so you’ll actually want to attend your next industry event.
1. Don’t Think of It as Networking
Dreading that next industry conference on your calendar?
Instead of only scheduling time for the biggest (and usually most boring) events of the season, look for smaller events that are more social. That way, when you look at your calendar, you can think of it as a fun night out.
Many networking events are centered around seminars and conferences. But there are plenty of other types out there that you might not be aware of.
Attend happy hours hosted by your university alumni association. RSVP yes to dinner parties and after-work events hosted by professional associations.
Regardless of the event, when you arrive, head straight to the bar and grab a drink, even if it’s just a club soda with lime. It’s the perfect place to meet people, and it’s easy to strike up conversation while you’re waiting for your drinks.
Be personable throughout the event. Most people default to being stuffy and somewhat boring at professional events, but you don’t have to be. If you stand out for having a warm and inviting personality, you’ll attract more people to you and make more connections.
2. Have Conversation Starters Prepared Ahead of Time
There’s nothing worse than striking up a conversation with a stranger who has absolutely nothing to say.
Don’t be that person. Go into your next event with a few questions, comments, or ideas you want to share.
Show your personality and express you who are, but keep it professional and non-controversial. Have some simple ideas of conversation starters in mind, such as:
Isn’t this a great venue?
I don’t know anyone here, can I introduce myself?
Did you hear about [insert X headline of the day]?
The trick to striking up a conversation is to have an opening line or question to pose to someone you’re interested in meeting. But the key to engaging in meaningful conversation and turning that intro into a relationship is to be honest and open.
Always be yourself. Don’t pretend to be interested in something you’re not interested in. Don’t ask questions that you wouldn’t be willing to answer yourself if someone else asked them of you.
Be warm, be personable, and be genuine, and your next networking event will be much more enjoyable than the ones that you spend in the corner by yourself.
3. Bring a Friend
Can’t handle society without a wingman? Bring a buddy or a coworker with you. Many people find social situations to be a lot less intimidating when they have a trusted cohort by their side.
If you can’t convince a friend to go along with you, look for pairs when you arrive. Introducing yourself to a pair of people is often easier than striking up a one-on-one conversation with someone you don’t know.
Because that pair of people is likely to be one of two things:
- People who came together that aren’t doing much networking
- Strangers who need another stranger to shake things up
If your duo already knows each other, they’re likely to welcome you into their conversation. That way, they’ll feel like they’ve networked and done what they’re there to do.
If you approach a pair that just met five minutes prior, you can help break the ice or free one of them from the conversation if they’re not hitting it off. And if they are engaged in genuine conversation, you can double up and meet two new people at once — networking success!
4. Combine Volunteer Opportunities With Networking
There’s more to networking than putting on your best suit and filling up your pockets with business cards. Networking opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, including volunteer gigs.
There’s no better way to meet like-minded people in your industry (and others) than to volunteer in your community.
Find a charity or organization that you’re passionate about and dedicate a Saturday to that mission.
Look for volunteer events organized by your current employer. Search social media to find events organized by competitors in your industry or field of interest. You can have fun, feel good about what you’re doing, and meet people who can help you take your career to the next level.
5. Embrace the Competition
We’ve been to lots of networking events that involve organizing people into teams or pairs to compete against others. While it may seem silly in the moment, embrace it. Joining forces and working towards a common goal is a great way to bond!
Competitive games encourage people to talk in small groups. So, draw a number from the hat, introduce yourself to your team, and make the best of it. You never know … someone on your team may be the hiring manager at the company you’ve been dreaming of working for!
Plus, when you’re forced to pair up with people you don’t know, it relieves the pressure of having to walk up to strangers and introduce yourself.
No matter what industry you’re in, networking is important. You can leverage your professional network to further yourself in your career.
If you find networking to be a stress-inducing experience, you’ll need to devise ways to make it less scary and more fun.
Once you learn how to make networking fun, you might actually start to enjoy it. And if you can master that, you’ll be ready for any job or opportunity that comes your way!
Adam Marshall is a freelance writer specializing in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with The Lofts at Brentwood to help them with their online marketing.