How To Make Those First Few Minutes At A Networking Event Way Less Awkward

Rajiv Nathan is co-founder of Idea Lemon and an adjunct instructor at Startup Institute Chicago, leading one-of-a-kind personal branding workshops to help students pitch themselves and tell their stories while networking and interviewing. You have your business cards in your pocket. You have a drink in hand. You see a sea of professionals.

You think, “How the hell do I start a conversation here?”

Welcome to networking events—where professionals come to talk and mingle. Still, most people feel awkward and fear they are horrible at talking and mingling.

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Why is it so difficult? One reason is that it’s really hard to walk up to someone, or walk up to a group, and try to work your way into a conversation.

If it’s a more structured event, typically the person leading will say, “Okay let’s go around the room, everyone say your name and what you do.”

One thing I’ve always enjoyed doing is finding ways to take the seemingly ordinary, and make it unordinary and extraordinary. When it comes to the seemingly ordinary networking event, what inevitably happens when you work your way into a group is everyone goes around giving the same drab introduction. It’s awkward, it’s boring, it’s the worst.

Next time, try this ice breaking trick instead:

My name is ______, and you can’t say you know me until you know _______ about me.

Fill in that blank with anything you want that’s unique and interesting about you. Then watch how that completely shifts the mood of the room and gets people really talking.

I had everyone introduce themselves this way at an event in Denver and in two minutes the group collectively learned about one person’s unfortunate luck with cars (including having her car set on fire), another person having her U-Haul truck stolen and driven into a lake, two peoples' connection over their fathers’ respective bouts with terminal illnesses, one person who had 10 different pitches of laughter, and more. Instantly we heard compelling stories and learned so much more about each other.

The seemingly ordinary became unordinary, and extraordinary connections happened as a result.

Awkwardness removed, and you get to own the room. Boom.

Try the You Don’t Know Me trick at your next networking event and see how well it works.

[bctt tweet="My name is ___. You can’t say you know me until you know ___ about me. — @RajNATION #networkingtip"]