A few months ago, after spending two years in the same place where I went to college, I moved to a new city. My college alumni group has an active chapter in my new city, and so I’ve signed up to attend an event—just a cocktail hour after work. But I've never done anything like this before (walk into a place where I don't know anyone, expected to socialize)—do you have any tips? I'm pretty nervous.
So glad you wrote—it's awesome to hear that you’re stepping outside your comfort zone and getting involved with your alumni group! When I moved to a new city, one of the first things I did was look around for an alumni chapter to join. It's a great idea, but it can be a little nerve-wracking, too. Here are some tips to follow that’ve helped me—before, during, and after the event.
Before the Event
Choose a Goal
Decide what you want to accomplish from this event. Do you want to meet people who could be new friends? Other alumni that work at companies you’re interested in? Potential mentors? Figuring out what you want out of the event can help you refine how to approach it and decide who to chat with while you’re there.
Do Your Homework
If the event organizers send out a list of attendees ahead of time, study it, with an eye toward your goal. Doing some research can help you identify a few people you’re interested in talking to before the event. And maybe you’ll even recognize a few names!
Get Your Cards Ready
Have a stack of business cards (even if they just contain your name and email address) printed and ready to hand out. Get ready to collect cards, as well—people love handing out their cards and are always flattered when you say, "Do you have a card?" You can even scribble a few "reminders" on each person's card at the end of the event, to jog your memory as to what you spoke about later on.
Have the Right Accessories (and Currency)
Usually cocktail hours involve a lot of standing, so plan accordingly. Make sure your shoes are comfortable, bring a smaller bag so that you aren't bumping into people all night, and check your coat once you're there, if that's an option. Also bring both cash and credit, in case the bar only takes one or the other, and smaller bills to tip the bartender.
During the Event
Grab a Drink
Heading to the bar and grabbing a drink is a great activity to do when you first get in. It gives you someone to talk to right off the bat (the bartender), a chance to make small talk with people around you as you wait, and something to hold while you circulate the room. (Note: The drink doesn't need to be alcohol, and if there isn’t a bar, a food table can have a similar effect.)
Once you have your drink, head to where the action’s at and don't be afraid to approach a group of people standing in a circle. Wait for an opening, then jump in and introduce yourself. I promise, if you say hello first, everyone will always say hello back. Remember, people go to these things to meet other people—all you have to say is "Hi, I'm Molly," and they will introduce themselves and the bantering can start.
Remember the HHH and LLL
When starting off a conversation with someone new at a party or social gathering, I typically use what I call the HHH method:
For this event specifically, the “host” is essentially your college, so you can kick a conversation off with questions about your undergrad years, like, “When did you graduate?” “What was your major?” “Did you play sports?”
From there, you’re off and running in a conversation with someone new. At this point, just remember the LLL’s: Be lighthearted, listen to what someone is saying, and try to keep her laughing.
Help Others Out
Remember that, regardless of how you might feel, you are never the most awkward person in the room. So open up the circle you’re standing in and invite those that look nervous about socializing to join in on the fun.
After the Event
Don’t forget to follow up with the people that interested you or that you talked with the most. And remember your goals! If you were looking to make friends, add a few people on Facebook and see if someone you enjoyed talking to wants to grab coffee. If you met a few potential job connections, connect with them on LinkedIn or email them a link to an interesting article about your industry.
Most importantly, though—don’t forget to have fun!
Got a question for Molly Ford, Founder of Smart, Pretty, and Awkward? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.