Everyone else is nervous too
When I was a four-year-old and was becoming concerned by a wasp or a spider, my mother would reassure me, “Don’t worry, it’s as scared of you as you are of it”. I’d like to extend the same advice to you in relation to networking events: everyone there is nervous about the situation too, and they’re not going to sting you (unless you provoke them – so don’t hit their nest with a stick).
Of course, they might seem more assured than you – but then you probably seem confident too, on the outside. On the inside, they’re desperately hoping some well-meaning person will approach them, and they’ll be delighted when it turns out to be you!
Introduce other people you know to each other
Do you know a couple of people at the event, who don’t know each other? Why not introduce them? You’ll be doing them a favor, and you’ll also be giving yourself plenty of extra items to talk about as the two new acquaintences get to know each other. And maybe they’ll return the favor at some point.
In fact, if you’ve managed to find yourself a lively group and you see someone standing awkwardly on their own, why not invite them in? Imagine how relieved you’d be if it were you – and again, maybe the favor will be returned for you in the future!
You never know who might be a good contact
Sometimes people go to networking events thinking, “I need to get to know Person X – (s)he’s a really important player in Y industry”. In fact, you don’t really know who might be a good contact to make until you’ve met them. That unassuming person in the corner might just turn out to have all kinds of mutually-beneficial opportunities available to you that haven't thought about. Sometimes it’s better to just get to know people and see what happens.
Work out in advance if you’ll know anyone there
If you’re able to access a list of people attending, then why not have a look to see if you recognize any names? There might be someone you’ve been emailing on a work basis – perhaps a client or someone whose professional services you regularly use – but who you’ve never met face-to-face. That will be a good ‘in’ for you – you can introduce yourself and tell them it’s nice to finally meet them in person!
Don’t take it too seriously
Meeting people is a source of joy! Throw yourself in, and try talking about something more interesting than work for at least some of the time. You never know what you’ll find out about people! It’s true that there can be something a little forced about networking events – why not try breaking the ice by poking a little light-hearted fun at the event and at the situation in general?
Remember, if you say anything that makes you seem silly, at least you’ll have some good stories to tell! So smile, unwind, and who knows – you might even end up enjoying yourself!