your PR career…Feeling Confident when Flying Solo by Andi Wilmes

Attending industry events is extremely important for your career, however, for the young professional it can be quite daunting. As the new person on the scene, it is not uncommon to walk into a room, look around and realize “I don’t know a single person here!”

As a fellow new pro, I have often attended events alone and have picked up some tricks to help make the experience less awkward and more rewarding.

Ask to be introduced around: In most cases, board and committee members of the organization that is hosting the event would be more than happy to introduce you to people. It is their responsibility to make each attendee feel welcome and accommodated.”

Don’t sit/stand alone:

  • If you’re at a cocktail reception get a drink/plate of hors d’oeuvres and join a group around a cocktail table. Introduce yourself right away, and start asking some icebreaker questions (see below for some examples).
  • If you’re at a lunch/dinner event, join a table that is almost full and sit RIGHT next to someone. Everyone’s first instinct is to find a table that is empty or leave a space between you and the next person. Not only does this signal to everyone that you are alone, but you also run the risk of not having anyone to easily chat with during the whole event.
  • If you’re in a seminar with classroom-like seating, again sit RIGHT next to someone. It is human nature to spread out, however this reduces your chances of chatting with someone too.

Follow-up: Follow-up is key to making the next event you attend alone less daunting. The great thing about industry events is that they are attend by the same group of people each time, which means nearly every person you connect with you will see again. I’m sure this goes without saying, but make sure you have plenty of business cards to pass around. When you get back to the office, log-in to LinkedIn and request to add each person you met to your connections (I would recommend personalizing the request to those that you had meaningful conversations with). Following up jogs the person’s memory and signals to them that you consider them a professional acquaintance.

Icebreaker questions: They may seem extremely obvious, however it is surprising how so many people run out of things to talk about so quickly.

  • “What do you do?”
  • “How long have you worked there?”
  • “Do you enjoy it?”
  • “Are you a member of “X” organization? For how long?”
  • “Did you grow up in (insert state/city)?”
  • “Did you hear/read about ‘X’?”
  • And the old stand-by: “Can you believe this weather?” 😉

If the event surrounds a particular topic, I would recommend reading as much as you can on the subject and come up with some potential questions/talking points ahead of time so you appear informed and can easily keep the conversation going.

Just remember that you are not the only person at an event that’s alone or feels awkward, so by following some of the above tips, you may just make someone else feel more comfortable too.

Andi Wilmes is the director of marketing and communications at Beringea, Michigan’s largest venture capital firm. She can be reached at