We’ve all heard it time and again- “it’s not what you know, but who you know,” particularly in DC, where who you know you can make or break your career. For anyone with social anxiety and uncontrollable awkwardness, this is a cringe-worthy fact.
As an unenthusiastic happy hour participant, I’ve spent years attempting to figure out how to survive in these socially mandated events. Here are some go-to tricks to make socializing easier in a city that runs on small talk and business card exchanges.
1. Use the buddy system
One is the loneliest number, especially in a networking situation. That’s why my favorite happy hour strategy is to use the buddy system. An extroverted plus one will ease your nerves, boost your confidence, and give you an automatic ‘in,’ especially if they are well connected around town.
2. Do your research
Planned events and fundraisers often have a program that includes special guests and a host committee. Use your expert Googling skills to learn something about a speaker and someone hosting the event. This will give you the proper ammunition to impress and flatter someone, feel confident in the conversation, and leave a good impression.
3. Ask questions
People love to talk about themselves, especially in DC. A “humble” brag and quick story about that one time they rode the elevator with John Boehner and he said “hi” is par for the course. Use this to your advantage by asking lots of questions. Be interested in their lives and curious about their work. They will happily indulge and you will coast through the conversation, smiling, nodding and not humiliating yourself with shaky anecdotes and rambling shoptalk.
4. Make a visual statement
Recently, I was walking into an event when I was stopped by a group of women, gushing over my new bag. Later, a man complimented the bag as we hovered around the dessert table. It was a conversation starter all night, so now it’s my go-to bag for all events… at least until it becomes last season. Statement pieces can be anything from a purse to a quirky tie, and they’re an easy way for people to engage you in conversation. So if you’re like me and have a hard time sparking dialogue, let your statement piece do the hard work for you.
5. Stay approachable
Smart phones open our world; they also can close it just as quickly. We happily fall into the safe space of a glowing screen rather than face our feelings of anxiety and nervousness, but fight the urge. If you appear consumed by your phone, you become the weird guy in the corner no one wants to talk to. So do yourself a favor- leave your phone in your pocket and bravely make eye contact with the wallflower across the room with the fancy purse.