Opinion: 5 great tips for networking solo

Networking can be anxiety-inducing, and even more so when you are walking into a room solo. Here's how to lessen the dread of going it alone

Credit: iStock

Networking can be anxiety-inducing, and even more so when you are walking into a room solo. Here’s how to lessen the dread of going it alone

Who hasn’t been in the situation where you’ve had to walk into a room full of strangers? Who will I talk to? Will I end up as the proverbial wallflower? What’s the minimum amount of time I have to spend at the event before I can slip away? Why did I think this was a good idea in the first place? Here are five ways that you can make solo networking more successful.

1. Come early, but not too early

It can be rather intimidating to arrive at the event once most others have shown up. How do you break into that crush of people? Duos and groups are already knee-deep in conversation and the decibel level is up around 100 (about the same as a room full of garbage disposals all switched on). This makes networking solo even more challenging, so plan to arrive early. What do we mean by early? For example, if there is a reception prior to an event and the reception starts at 6 p.m., arrive then. There will be fewer people, which makes it easier for you to gravitate to those people. And because it is not as noisy, you can actually have a relaxed conversation.

2. Stand near the entrance to the room—and smile

There is a temptation when you go to an event solo to bury yourself in the middle of the room, or put your back up against a wall, and inadvertently strike a wallflower pose. Instead, take a position near the entrance so you can see who is coming into the room. Look at people as they enter, and smile—this makes you more approachable. The bonus is you may see someone you know.

3. Remember our mutual pluralistic ignorance

That is a big fancy term from researchers like Nicholas Epley, who have found that “Everyone is willing to talk but thinks everyone else is unwilling.” We are social animals, despite the damage that our smart phone has done to our interpersonal skills, so as a solo networker it’s important to remember that most people want to strike up a conversation, even though they don’t start one.

4. Give yourself permission to talk to people you don’t know

People often hold back (see pluralistic ignorance above) and wait for someone to approach them to start a conversation. This is not a good idea as a solo networker. Give yourself a pep talk as you walk to the event. Give yourself permission to talk to people you don’t know. And remember, a wallflower is a good person to approach because they want what you want—a conversation!

5. Relax—don’t be too invested in the outcome of each interaction

All networking, solo or not, is easier if people don’t worry about the outcome of each interaction. People put a lot of pressure on themselves, believing that every encounter needs to be a “win,” “slam dunk” or “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Every conversation doesn’t require a follow-up. Sometimes it’s OK to be a “catch and release” networker. Relax and enjoy the event. That way, you’ll do it again, solo!

Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, Judy Thomson and Darcy Rezac, principals of Shepa Learning Company, are business networking speakers and authors of Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life (Penguin/Prentice Hall)