How to enter a group of people at a networking event - without feeling awkward
Have 👏 you 👏 heard 👏 of 👏 the 👏 stinkbird?! 👏
Let me tell you aaaallllll about the stinkbird.
Well, technically it's called a hoatzin, and it's native to the forests of Guyana.
Firstly, it has claws on its wings. Yup. Claws. On its wings. And when they're babies, hoatzins use those claws to climb trees like a monkey.
Secondly, it apparently smells REALLY bad, which is a trait that no other bird in the entire world has.
In fact, it actually digests its food very similarly to a cow, thus causing the extreme stench of this bird.
While it must be pretty awkward for this poor creature to be the only smelly member of its extended family, there might be something that feels even more uncomfortable to us humans: entering a group conversation at an event.
Most of us tend to just… hover there, hoping that some kind member of the group will let us in. Otherwise, we just stand there in a limbo between walking away or speaking up.
As someone who used to suffer from chronic-hoverer-syndrome, I'd love to share some tips that'll help those moments feel a whole lot less awkward.
Here's what we're going to cover today!
Part 1: Social mindsets
Part 2: Ways of entering groups
Part 3: How to Practice
As an extreme introvert, I don't want to ever leave my home
Whenever there's any sort of event, opportunity, or social gathering of any kind, my brain screams at me to say "no." I know a lot of people can relate to that. And even when I do say "yes," I'm kicking myself the day of the event, because I really really don't want to go.
And, in the past, when I did force myself out the door, I'd always dread entering groups and talking to new people. I thought I was doomed to be bad at it forever.
Thankfully though, all social skills are just… skills
And when we see them as such, we realize that we can improve. We can transform from feeling completely overwhelmed to totally smooth in any scenario.
Over the last decade, I've worked to make all my social interactions feel great. I can happily tell you that if you put the time in, all of these social tasks become a ton easier, to the point where people assume you were always socially graceful.
That's why I suggest a playful mind
When it comes to these sorts of things. It's not about getting a certain outcome, but instead about practicing and analyzing to see how we can keep improving and having more fun.
So as we dive into these tips, go in with a sense of play, experimentation, and fun.
Thankfully, most everyone else at an event is feeling just as awkward as we are
Yup, it's true. From the ultra high-level CEO, to the brand new student, almost everyone at any sort of networking event is feeling at least a little out of their depth and unsure of themselves.
We can use that to our advantage. If they feel weird, it's okay that we do too.
Now, let's say you show up to an event…
There you are, drink in hand (I myself prefer cranberry juice with a lime), standing alone amidst a sea of people.
You look around to see if you know anyone, and… you don't. Uh oh. It turns out it's a room full of strangers who all seem to be so much more socially gifted.
So what should we do
If we want to enter a group of new people, but don't want to be a total weirdo while doing it?
Here are just a few techniques that'll help:
1. Comment on the environment
2. Enter as a pair
4. Acknowledge others
The easiest way to enter a group, especially when you're all alone
Is to simply comment to the group about something in the environment. The food being served, a drink, the temperature… literally anything. Even "this is a really nice space!" is more than enough in a lot of circumstances to get a conversation rolling.
Depending on the type of event it is, you may want to comment to someone in the group individually (if the event is super loud and an entire group couldn't possibly hear you), or just as a general statement to the group as a whole (if the event is a little more subdued.)
Now, if you have a buddy with you
And I suggest you bring one if you're new to this whole "networking" thing, then it becomes incredibly easy to join a group of people as a duo (or trio, or quartet, or…)
Literally just walk into a group with your friend, and introduce yourselves. That's it. If you want to make sure they know you're there and they make room, just ask "is it alright if we squeeze in?"
You may be shocked at how quickly groups will part like the red sea to welcome you into their bosom if you're in a small group of your own.
Sometimes, though, you may even overhear something from another group that makes you want to join and pipe in.
And that's actually a great way to join them
For example, if someone in a group is talking about Mass Effect, Metal Gear, or anime (I have very deep, intellectual tastes), then I gotta hear what they're saying.
All you need to do is go up to the group and say "I couldn't help but overhear you talk about X. I just had to come over when I heard that." and you're in. It's that easy.
Is this eavesdropping?
But at a networking-based event, it's completely fine.
This last one may be the most important of them all
Though it may not help you enter a group, it will help you form one. This is my most used special ability of them all.
All you need to do is acknowledge others
For example, smile and wave at a person who walked into the event alone.
Or, if someone is hovering around your group, enthusiastically and openly welcome them in.
Maybe introduce someone to someone else.
Say "thank you" to the event organizers.
Really, anything like that and your networking will be infinitely easier.
Jim Carrey said it best: "The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is."
Although it may feel like we're alone in a sea of strangers at any of these meetups, the truth is that we can make anyone feel welcomed by going out of our way to acknowledge them.
Our goal, after all, isn't just to "network." It's to make genuine friends and connections. The best way to do that is through showing others that they belong there, too.
Each time you go to an event
Pick one of these techniques to practice. They'll become second nature in no time. My personal favorite is the final one, but you'll find your favorite methods as you go to more events.
"But Akash, you erudite sprinkling of chocolate ganache," I hear you say, "I don't want to interrupt anyone!"
I get this. We want to be polite and make sure that we're not a charisma-less weirdo.
But I'll ask you, how many times have you been in a group at a networking event, and when someone else joins, it made you angry/feel interrupted?
Unless we talk over other people loudly and consistently, no one will feel interrupted or offended.
Obviously, use your judgement here. If there's a group whispering quietly in a corner, maybe don't bust in with your 2-hour-long treatise about the plot of Kingdom Hearts.
So let's go over everything we learned today:
1. Social skills are just that… skills. We can all get better at them with practice
2. Entering a group of strangers doesn’t have to be the worst thing ever, provided we keep a playful mindset
3. You can comment on the environment, enter a group as a pair, eavesdrop, and (most powerfully) acknowledge others to make this whole process infinitely easier
4. There is a real bird called the stinkbird and it rules
Thankfully, none of us are as repellent as the stinkbird
Which means that with just a few tactical and mindset tweaks, our networking skills can be drastically improved.
Is there more to this?
Absolutely. Even though I listed 4 different ways to talk to groups of humans, there are dozens and dozens of other methods to be able to socialize well in various scenarios. Here are a few books I recommend to help out:
And if you’d like even more training
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