How to Break the Ice at a Networking Event

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Networking! How many times do you hear experts proclaim the amazing benefits of networking? Want to rapidly expand your business horizons…network. Want to jump into a new and exciting opportunity…network. Looking to build a group of trusted advisors and professional friends…network.  In a general sense, it’s great advice! Just network.

We are heavily people-focused as real estate professionals. Regardless of  where you are in the real estate world, you likely reach out to a network on a daily basis to conduct your business.

But how do you get started? How do you meet people when you don’t know a single person, at say, a networking event?

Problem: You walk into a networking event and everyone is chatting away in groups of three to five people with no intentions of opening up or letting go of their conversations. You’re there to meet people, yet you don’t have an “in” with anyone in the room. It can be a truly awkward moment that you wish you could have avoided. But you can’t because everyone is already locked into conversation and you can’t walk up to a friend or colleague. What next?!

Solution: Give this a try. Own the fact that you don’t know anyone and confidently approach a group and say “Hey all, I’m new here and am looking to meet interesting people.  Do you mind if I join you?” 

You’d be amazed at how receptive people are to opening up and including you in their conversation. But the trick is you must make the first move.

Quick example: I was recently invited to a local networking event and was very excited because of the opportunity to meet some truly interesting and engaging people. The problem: I didn’t know a single person at the event and had no clue how it’d go (scratch that, I knew one person, but he left very early on). I was on my own and really didn’t want to be the fly on the wall.

Related: How to Lose Friends and Annoy People

So I basically had two choices. I could:

  • A) stick to the wall and look at the groups of people wishing I knew someone (anyone) to strike up a conversation with or
  • B) get over the fact that I didn’t know anyone and make a genuine effort to put myself out there.  

I choose the latter, and the results were fantastic.  I made the awkward first move of introducing myself and admitting that I knew no one; but everyone I met was equally interested in meeting me and hearing my story.  Business cards were exchanged, jokes were had, drinks (surprisingly strong ones) were drank, and I had a great time.

One thing to keep in mind: Have your 30-second story down. The one question people will most commonly ask: What do you do? Once your story is down, you’re set. Let the rest happen and have a great time. It’s much easier than it appears once you make the all-important first step of putting yourself out there.

Happy networking!

Photo: GallivantingGirl

About Author

Kyle Zaylor

Kyle is the creator of realestate-java.com, a blog dedicated to commercial real estate development. Kyle is also a real estate development associate with Blu Homes, Inc. His company focuses on building sustainable homes throughout the country.

16 Comments

  1. Kyle, thanks for a helpful post. I basic am a shy person and usually feel out of place in new or unfamiliar group settings. I will definitely use your techniques for my next networking event.

  2. I went to my first REI meeting last month and it was intimidating to be alone and the “fly on the wall”. Thankfully someone approached me and started the conversation. My experience was both positive and negative, both my own doing. When people approached me I didn’t have anything to say when they asked what I was doing in RE, I am very new. That was a conversation killer right there. However, after the meeting when people were networking I decided to ask around for investors who had used probates to find leads. This made a big difference, I didn’t feel out of place, I had comfortable interactions and made a lot of good contacts. I would reiterate that having a 30 second story or a topic you are trying to learn about will give you confidence and make the meeting meaningfull. I am planning on having a different topic for the next meeting.

    The thing you touched on that newbies and loners need to keep in mind is, this community of people, in my experience, are very friendly, helpful and open to including new people.

    • Absolutely true, Gary! It’s always a tall task to walk into a room and initiate a conversation–especially when a group is already chatting away. But like you touched on, networking is all about helping out and adding to the conversation. Even people new to RE can add tremendous value.

    • Chad Ballard on

      Another idea to try. There are other people just like you at the networking events that are the flies on the wall or feel just the same way you do. If you do not want to interrupt a group that is talking, check around the perimeter of the room for others that are by themselves or are checking email on their phones.

      Great post Kyle.

      • Thanks, Chad! Great point with approaching people on their phones or looking around from the fringes. If I were to write this post again, I’d offer that as another tip because it can often lead to the most fruitful conversations. I’ve found that many people checking their phones have a sense of relief because someone’s chatting with them.

        Quick example: Just last week I was at an event and approached someone that was scanning the room but not engaged with anyone. We had a great chat about the event and what we got out of it. He actually thanked me for stopping by to strike up the conversation.

  3. Jeff Brown

    One of my shyest mentors told me how he handled these events, which has become my model. He did his best to have the conversation center on everyone but himself. When he’d heard enough from somebody, and he wanted to know more, he’d get their cards and call them another day.

    It’s proven to be a very effective strategy for me. It’s also provided a bonus. I’ve gotten more useable ‘intel’ of all sorts by deflecting the conversation away from me. Intel is a good thing. 🙂

    • That’s a great point, Jeff! I see plenty of people trying to “work a room” collecting as many business cards as possible. However, your point about wanting to know more about others just shows that’s it’s all about giving and helping.

      Intel is definitely a great thing!

  4. Fred Stevens on

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into a room full of people I’ve never seen or met and said this to myself- “well here I am going again into a room full of folks I’ve never met.” What you provide is a couple of very handy one-liner scripts for approaching these situations plus an elevator speech. Excellent!

  5. Wow – so simple, yet so profound. I’m willing to bet that most people have a lot of difficulty in these kinds of situations (I’m definitely no exception). It’s amazing how helpful it is just to have an opening phrase like this to get your foot in the door.

    I am totally using this at my next networking event – thanks Kyle!

  6. Tae Seung Kim

    Not trying to bring any negative aura here but just curious. Has anyone actually been snubbed and given cold shoulder when trying to project into a group in any REI meetings?

    And this was when someone legitimately introduce in the “right” way. It seems like this is like impossible.

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