Most of the people I talk to hate networking. They go to an event and hang with the few people they know the whole time and then they go home. It’s the awkward conversation starters that get most people to avoid these important business events. In an attempt to make networking more palatable for the average professional I’ve compiled my favorite ways to make networking less awkward. 

Show up early.

Whether you were assigned to go, dragged kicking and screaming or just don’t know how to act at networking events, it’s best to arrive early. Why? The main reason is that people are fresh and haven’t quite started their cliques yet. There’s no deep conversations currently happening so it allows you to be able to start conversations easier with others.

Volunteer your butt off.

Many people don’t see volunteering as networking, but they should. If you volunteer with organizations you are passionate about, it allows you to make connections with others who have a similar passion. Similarly, if you volunteer for an industry organization the registration table, for example, it forces you to meet a wide range of people. Either way, volunteering is a low stress way to network without the fear of a traditional networking approach.

Hit the food line. Many times.  

You’re at a networking event and don’t know where to go. How about the food line? At a minimum, you get to talk to the people in front of you and behind you fairly easily. This approach is easy to execute. Start by asking a question or making a light statement nonchalantly, such as “the traffic was a bear today” or “did you see that home run Miggy hit last night?” Don’t load up your plate and hit the food line a few times. It really works. Trust me.

Don’t act like a used car salesman.  

If you start talking sales you may as well put on a cheap suit and sport your best comb over. You will fail with that approach, every single time. The focus should be on relationship building. Spend more time listening. When it’s your turn to talk, be the best version of yourself. That means looking good, smelling good (ask a friend if you’re noseblind), feeling good and thinking clearly (aka, limit your adult beverage intake). 

Smile.

Smiling is the easiest thing you can do. It reduces a barrier-to-entry. Smiling right away says you’re interested, engaged and likeable.

Use part of all of these tips and you’ll immediately begin to feel better about networking. It won’t be such a scary, mysterious event anymore and you may actually look forward to going. And remember, all this is wasted if you don’t follow up after the event.