By Maria Tomaino, Associate Director, Events & Marketing

I meet students and alumni at networking events and one of the most common questions I hear is “So, what do I do here?”

Networking is one of those unfamiliar things, even though it should be looked at as the most familiar of all!  Reason being is because we network every day; we meet new people all the time! However, something about dressing up and introducing yourself to someone you don’t know, could be a little intimidating.  The goal is not to add pressure to meet everyone in the room, but rather to set a realistic goal of meeting at least 3 new people, being open and genuine, listen and take interest in the other person, and find ways to follow up. 
Now, that’s all well and good, but how do you actually START a conversation with a complete stranger?

It’s easy; make an observation!

Here is a list of one liners to break the ice that not only I have all used myself, but are sure fired ways to get a conversation going:

“Crazy traffic on the way over here! Did you travel far to get to this event?” 
“This is a great event, how did you hear about it?” 
“Wow!  I love your (insert item of clothing/bag/shoes here). Where did you get it?” 
“Did you try a crab cake yet? It’s delicious!” 
“I see on your nametag that you are an UM alumni! When did you graduate and what degree?”And, my personal favorite:

“Hi! I’m Maria, may I sit at your table; I don’t know anyone else here!” (People LOVE this one!  You would be surprised by the amount of people are open and receptive to this because it is so honest and genuine. )

Here are some networking don’ts:
DON’T be creepy.  You know what I’m talking about. Lurking around, staring at people, not talking or following around people, you get the drift.  This isn’t you.  This may be the nervous, unsure version of you, but it isn’t someone that you want to strive to be.  Be confident! Smile! Engage!
DON’T take the event for more than it is.  Listen, one event isn’t going to make or break your job search.  And if it didn’t go as planned, so what? And if you did make a few good connections, so what?  It’s over the course of time, following up with others and continuous connecting and growth of your personal and professional network is when you will see some major results.
DON’T dress a fool.  At the end of the day, networking events are a professional setting.  Dressing in something comfortable, business professional, stylish, and showing some personality is always a bonus.  You want to make your best impression wherever you go.  Need some inspiration, check out Toppel’s Pinterest boards.
DON’T be on your phone the whole time.  Check ins, tweeting the event hashtag, taking an Instagram, that’s all well and good but make sure you are approachable, engaging in conversation and making eye-contact!
Here’s the thing.
Meeting others is something that happens every day, throughout your whole life. Being comfortable in taking small risks by starting a conversation, listening and being genuine can go as far as you let it. You never know who you will meet, what you have in common, and where your relationship could go!
Be brave.  I know you can do it.
And if you see me at an event, I encourage you to say hi first. I promise we’ll have a conversation.