This post was published earlier on LinkedIn

In the first part of this 3-article series, you learned “5 Steps to Approaching a Stranger at a Networking Event.”

Now, let’s look into how to interact with several strangers at the same time.

Approaching a complete stranger at an event can be challenging, but it is quite common that people cluster into small groups of 2-3 people. Then what do you do?

You may feel intimidated and have thoughts like:

  • “I am only one person and there are three of them. I’m too shy”
  • “What if they feel I’m bothering them?”
  • “What if they don’t let me into their conversation?”

We need to do the same mental visualization that was learned in last article Instead of programming yourself for rejection, inject a positive scenario into your head.

Below is the previous process that we learned, but this time we will add a small twist to it by adding the step in bold:

  1. Visualize a positive outcome
  2. Observe the group of 2-3 people first
  3. Approach and SMILE
  4. Make eye contact
  5. Extend your hand
  6. Introduce yourself.

So why are we observing the group of 2-3 people?

We want to take time to evaluate them.

This gives you time to access how you should ease into the conversation with them. No one likes a person barging into a conversation and cutting everyone off. Easing into a conversation is a lot like double-dutch rope jumping, where timing is everything.

Take your time to notice the groups symmetry and makeup. See:

  • Who is talking the most
  • Who seems to smile the most
  • Who is quiet
  • Who is standing a little to the side

You do this to find a better moment to walk up and join them.

If you can, try to hear parts of the conversation to get something to address when you start speaking.

You are doing this to find a timely moment to walk up and join them.

Naturally, you don’t want to come off as a creepy person, standing in a corner eaves dropping, so you need to make it look natural.

Once you have made up your mind on how and when to approach them, walk up and introduce yourself.

A good approach is to walk up to the one person that is a little bit off to the side of the group, and make sure they are not talking at the time. You’ll find that 4 out of 5 times, there will be such a person in a group.

Here are some examples of things to say:

  • “You guys seem like a fun bunch. Mind if I join you?”
  • “I hear lots of laughter, may I join this happy bunch? I am Francis…”
  • “Hi I am Francis, mind if I join you? I heard you mention California, I lived there…”

You have to trust your gut that people are receptive and that you will find the right time to join the group. It may cause you some anxiety in the beginning but practice will overcome that. If it doesn’t work the first time, try timing the rope and jump in somewhere else.

We are naturally shy when confronting a number of strangers and you may find it hard, but as mentioned in part 1: “we are all strangers at a networking event.”

Always remember that others feel just as shy or awkward as you.

Here is one more thing to keep in mind, to relieve any anxiety that you may have, the 2-3 people you are approaching have most likely just met each other. In this case, you will not be a outsider to the conversation. You don’t have to worry that you are breaking up a bunch of life-long friends. You are just another person trying to be friendly and network with others.

Smile, keep calm (relax) and believe in a positive outcome. No one is there to hurt you.

Networking is really more about relaxing and being able to make others feel you are relaxed. It is about demonstrating that you are ok with who you are. That you like people and don’t mind spending time with others. You will find that your confidence will attract others and help you become much more than ‘just another business card.’

In the beginning, if you are not used to approaching groups of people, you may want to partner with another person and walk around together. This way you can tackle new strangers as a team, and it might help you feel less intimated approaching a group.

Hopefully this article can give you further ideas on how to improve networking skills. Please let me know if you have any questions, you can post them in the Comments section below.

After practicing these networking tips, check out the next article on a similar topic: “Overcoming Shyness - How To Approach A Stranger In Public (outside a networking event)”

P.S. I love sharing what I know, that could possibly help others, so feel free to let me know what other networking topics you would like to see in upcoming articles.