Michael Roderick, an expert networker and the host of “The Access to Anyone Podcast” is full of ideas for connecting with anyone, anywhere.

First, he says, recognize that there are four basic archetypes of conference goers:

  1. Sharks -- These are the people on a mission. They have specific people they want to meet and nothing will impede their hunt. They’ll bust into a group of people talking, they’ll maneuver into any conversation. They’re passing out business cards like Halloween candy and they keep moving.
  1. Dolphins -- Comfortable in crowds, you’ll find dolphins gathered in groups, surrounded by colleagues, clients and associates. They’re virtually never alone, and they generally only talk to people they know. Dolphins create an impenetrable cluster. Interestingly, they often don’t realize they’re excluding others, so don't take it personally.
  1. Drowners -- The opposite of dolphins, these people are traveling solo. They may want to engage with others, but sometimes they may seem lost in the crowd. They tend to hang out by the bar, or by the food, or will stand alone looking at their phones.
  1. Lifeguards -- These are the people who actively search for opportunities to strike up conversations. They make an effort to engage the drowners, look for stray dolphins, and they’ll even intercept a shark if the opportunity arises.

Roderick advises that it’s ideal to position yourself as a lifeguard.  If you’re feeling awkward at a crowded event, take on the role of the lifeguard and look for someone to relieve with your charm. Think of yourself as there to be of help to people and it will reduce any anxiety you may have from being adrift in a large group setting. When you’re looking for people who are feeling awkward or not engaged, it helps to ease your way into a larger groups.  Lifeguards can be forward without becoming sharks.

Pro Tips for Connecting:  

  • Look for people who stand alone. Often people who single themselves out are influencers.  For instance, many times when someone steps away or leaves the circle, she’s on her way to speak on a panel.
  • Get there early.  There are usually people organizing the conference or helping to set up -- they’ll welcome you. Sometimes the speakers arrive early to scope things out.  A near-empty room before the grand opening is a great opportunity to offer to help, chat people up and perhaps get an introduction to the higher ups.
  • If you intend to meet or develop a relationship with someone specific, keep your eye on the entrances and exits. It’s a great place to put yourself in front of the person as they leave or make a quick introduction as they arrive.
  • The best time to meet people is always the unstructured free time, after the crowd disperses.  The lingerers are often most open to meeting and talking.
  • Think about who you’d like to meet before you get to the conference. Be bold, reach out to them on Twitter or LinkedIn and invite them to a dinner you’re organizing with some great people.  Who could say no to a tempting invitation?

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