How to go solo to mixers, conferences and other events

Some of us dread the prospect of attending a conference, business mixer or backyard barbecue solo. Feeling alone is rarely the issue; the problem lies in knowing how to do the work to change that.

Chances are good, however, that the rewards will be greater than if you go with a sheltering friend or group, or if you spend all your lonesome hours hovering around the snack table. New people represent new opportunities – “opportunities to get and opportunities to give,” says Keven McGhan (Finance ’89).

On the “get” side, says the JR Shaw School of Business instructor and networking expert, are connections that may lead to jobs, customers if you’re a business owner and perhaps even new friendships. As for giving, “If you can help somebody else, they’ll remember that.”

What’s the best way for the single socializer to do either? Maybe you’re the envy of all introverts and the how isn’t something you struggle with. If it is, however, these dos and don’ts should help.

Lean on the host

Do … ask the person who invited you to make a first introduction to help you build some social momentum. That person will likely introduce you to another and so on. “It can probably set you on the right track for the entire evening,” says McGhan.

Don’t … count on it happening. The host may be too busy, so be ready to take care of yourself.

Reach out

Do … sidle up to a group of three or more if you don’t see another single soul waiting to be engaged in conversation. Listen for a moment to get a sense of the conversation. Look interested.

Don’t … try to insert yourself between a pair. “There’s a higher possibility that a group of two has a more personal conversation going on.”

Break the ice

Do … be patient in the group situation. Someone will probably introduce him- or herself, says McGhan. “If not, it becomes incumbent upon you to do that.” Consider adding to the conversation before doing so. If at a loss with someone alone, start by asking about what you know you have in common: a connection to the host.

Don’t … interrupt the flow of the group conversation. Stay on topic. Ask a question. When one-on-one, stay onside, McGhan advises. Ask people about themselves, as “they’ll probably find those questions easy to answer” but don’t get too personal.

Exit gracefully

Do … end a conversation if you want. Wait for it to return to where it started, which usually indicates a natural conclusion. If it doesn’t get there, bring it back, say, to your connection with the host. Or reference a topic of discussion. Show you’ve listened and appreciated the talk. If it isn’t your first meeting of the event, consider introducing the person to someone else.

Don’t … follow the conversation with nothing. Start another so as not to send the message that all you wanted was escape. That said, don’t race from person to person. “You want to have meaningful conversations,” says McGhan. If you’d set a goal of meeting a certain number of people, keep it reasonable. Ten is not reasonable; three is.


Do … enjoy yourself responsibly.

Don’t … keep your icy glass or bottle in your right hand. If you do, your handshake – which can be improved with McGhan’s help (check out the video below) – will be cold and clammy.


Do … show appreciation for the host’s efforts to feed people.

Don’t … “plan on satisfying your hunger at that event if you know it’s going to be a stand-up kind of thing,” says McGhan. Pre-eat – don’t get bogged down with a plate in one hand and a drink in the other. Don’t be remembered as the person who came alone and seemed more interested in snacks than people. Don’t lose sight of the opportunities.

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