How to Work a Room When You Don’t Know a Soul

By Chanel Dror

Whether you’re newly single and ready to mingle or traveling for work to a far away conference, there’s nothing more unsettling than finding yourself in a room full of strangers. And if you have any bit of social anxiety, the thought of all those unfamiliar faces could be enough to deter you from attending an event altogether… and what do you have to gain from that?

I’ve noticed that as I transition from my mid-twenties to my late-twenties, my comfort zone is becoming gradually smaller when it comes to social settings. So in an effort to shake things up a little bit, I turned to one of my all-time favorite communication experts for help — John Daly is a Professor of Communications at the University of Texas (and all around inspiring human), and he’s joining us today to share his do’s and don’ts for navigating a room when you don’t know a soul. Keep reading to learn how to break out of your shell and make your next networking event something you actually look forward to…

DO pay attention to the person you are talking with. Make sure to not look over their shoulder to see who else you could be talking to, and avoid checking your phone for messages.

DON’T monopolize one person. Don’t limit your conversation to one individual. If you see someone standing by themselves, that’s an open invitation to go over and chat with them.

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DO be more interested than interesting. There is a legendary story about Winston Churchill’s mother, who after dining with British statesmen Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone was asked what she thought about each. She replied, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I was sure that I was the cleverest woman in all of England.”

DON’T be creepy. Watch your disclosures — these are people you don’t know well.

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DO be mindful of how much you drink. The more your drink, the more stupid you get.

DON’T eat and drink at the same time. You’ll look too busy, and how can you shake someone’s hand?

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DO ask open questions rather than closed questions. For example, ask “What do you like about your job?” versus “Do you like your job?” The first question is open and gives the person a chance to expand.

DON’T be disagreeable. When you have a disagreement with what someone is saying, go to a principle the two of you can agree upon.

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DO listen for “iceberg statements.” When you ask open questions people often hint at what they want to talk about next. For instance, if you ask someone about their job and they respond with, “I like the people I work with as well as the new challenges I face every day,” that person is telling you they want to talk about both their colleagues and the challenges they face.

DON’T humblebrag. For example, “Ugh, I was running so late today because I had to pick up my new Mercedes this morning and then had to take my child to his or her prestigious elementary school.”

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DO give compliments. Everyone loves getting them.

DON’T be ingratiating. There’s nothing more irritating than a disingenuous compliment.

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