Tip for Approaching People at Networking Events

Almost all professionals will attend some sort of gathering this time of year.  Regardless of your holiday traditions, it seems unanimous that December is a time to reconnect with colleagues.

I recently attended an event hosted by the Legal Marketing Association of New England.  It was a traditional holiday gathering which focused on providing an opportunity to network.  It was particularly interesting because I had an experience that reminded me of a great tip I once picked up from a fellow consultant:

“If you attend a networking event alone and want to break into the group, it is far better to approach an individual or a group with an odd number of participants (3 or 5 works well) than a pair of people”.

This tip proved very true for me– reminding me how important it is to consider how your actions impact others.  Twice, I found myself engrossed in great discussions with a colleague when a third person, whom I do not know very well (but like very much) approached us.  Although I was happy to see this person, it caused us to lose track of our conversation– a great disappointment to me.  Of course, I was able to try to reconnect, but the moment had passed us by and the conversation drifted.  I became very aware of the magic in the tip I received from my colleague!

I understand that it is awkward to inject yourself into networking events that are in full swing, particularly if you don’t know many people.  However, it isn’t hard to find small groups to join until the person you wish to speak with has moved on from their one-on-one conversation.  The general idea is that if you approach two people, chances are good that they are engaged in a meaningful conversation.  By joining these two people, you interrupt the connection between those two people and cause an awkward transition where they must either give you a synopsis of their discussion or just change the subject.  This disrupts the flow of the interaction and makes everyone uncomfortable.

Lesson learned– it is much better to approach a group of three people.  Small, uneven groups offer the chance to begin a conversation without risking intrusion.  Strike up a conversation with one of the three people and the other two will continue on their path without much thought. Try it!