Meeting people for the first time can be daunting. Add to that the pressure of meeting strangers, and you have something called networking. I was at a Business Chicks breakfast speaking event last week to see the Red Shark, the founder of Red Balloon, Naomi Simson. The breakfast was a great opportunity to meet some dynamic women in business.
I arrived early and had the opportunity to meet new people before my friend turned up. Around the hotel foyer, there were lots of people waiting on their own. In the early morning light, these individuals were craning over the blue glow of their mobile phones. It was hard to catch anyone’s eye.
I walked around to the top of the escalator to wait for my friend, and noticed there were some other people waiting on their own too- maybe I could start a conversation there.
As nonverbals are my forte, I noticed the closed body language, arms crossed and clutching bags, bodies turned away. Ah, maybe not. I was thinking ‘This is ridiculous, I’m in the business of communication. Maybe it’s just too early in the morning.’
Then, a smiling woman strode up to the group
‘Hi, I’m Ineke. Do you all know each other?’
And that’s all it took to meet Ineke and five other interesting, very friendly people. We were all waiting for permission to mingle. It took one person to give us that permission, and it was something we could have given ourselves.
From now on, I’ll try to be a bit more like Ineke. It’s easy to make excuses for our own shyness. Next time I’m at an event where I don’t know anybody, I’ll remember what relief it was to have someone start the conversation.
Top 3 ways to break the ice
Turn off your phone.
It might make us feel less awkward to be on our device in a public place where we don’t know anyone, but it cuts us off from the people in the room. To add to our isolation, looking at a small device can reduce our confidence to engage with others. A Harvard Business School study, ‘iPosture: The Size of Electronic Consumer Devices Affects Our Behavior’, demonstrated that people behaved less assertively, the smaller the device they looked at. Put down your phone to be available for conversations and increase your confidence.
Make eye contact, and smile.
In other words, look approachable. Although our tendency is to close off our body language when we feel nervous, try to keep open body-language. What would that look like? Arms uncrossed, and a friendly facial expression are a good start.
Say hello, and ask a low-stakes question.
Or; be more like Ineke. ‘Do you know each other?’ ‘Have you been to one of these events before?’ Great communicators shine the spotlight onto their partner.
How will you approach your next networking event?