A friend of mine is an early career professional attending their first big-time national conference this week. I got this text from them last night:

Networking and socializing with so many people is so exhausting and awkward. How did you get better at small talk and networking in an organic way?

As a speaker, they're having to do more mingling than a garden variety attendee and this was not part of their prep. So here's what I sent back:

First thing is to take breaks when you need to. Seriously. Go to the restroom, pretend to get a text or call. This will help recharge your batteries!

Then, have a couple of stock questions like

  1. This is my first time at this conference. Have you been before?
  2. I work at X on the Y team. Where are you from?
  3. I’m excited about the X session. Which one are you looking forward to?
  4. I'm doing a rapid-fire session on X. What's your area of expertise?

You can always follow up with how or why questions if you’re actually interested. Otherwise say something like “oh, I’ve got to check in with my nephew before bedtime, excuse me” or “ive got to find my coworker, it’s been nice chatting with you”

Try these tactics the next time you're heading to a networking event or business social.

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