A common misperception among aspiring social minglers is that it takes friends to make friends. This suspicion is sadly and erroneously all too often borne out in the event known as happy (anxious) hour (three to four hours).
Our protagonist arrives alone and hopeful. Surely someone will recognize his spark of wit and intellect, resulting in a whirlwind of handshakes, phone number exchanges, and invitations to grab coffee some time. He slathers his hands with alcohol based antiseptic in anticipation so as to slightly reduce the chance of communicating, along with his repartee, some horrible pandemic virus.
Upon arrival, he hovers by the bar. Nothing. People of the exclusive looking sort stand in tight rings talking as if they’ve been friends since fetus. He hovers instead by the snack table, engrossed by the array of chips and carrots. Alas, alack, nothing. It is at this point that it becomes unbearably obvious that everyone else is tall, attractive, interesting, silver-tongued, and beloved, whereas he is a lump of loser smiling sickly while pretending to respond to a text message.
He tries, in a last ditch effort, to attract attention by doing his best impersonation of Humphrey Bogart in “His Girl Friday”. Only Humphrey Bogart wasn’t in “His Girl Friday”. In the ensuing confusion, our protagonist portrays instead a potted plant, turning green and soiling himself. If only he had gone to preterm.
As common and convincing this scenario is, its outcome is not inevitable. Here, in handily condensed form, is the map of how to navigate happy hour for those who are stuck up networking creek without good prattle or at least a friend who will let you stand slightly behind him but close enough to be part of the circle while he talks to people.
The key to success is in first contact. Once you’ve got hold of an interlocutor or two, they are yours for the talking until they can come up with a plausible excuse for disengaging.
Seeing as how this is a condensed guide, we will focus here on one high probability technique for breaking in that won’t get you arrested on your own front porch and invited to the White House for a beer—a social faux pas to be avoided as vigilantly as bringing up outdated news stories that may have since become obscure.
The technique described herein relies on the law of diminishing group size, which states that if a member of the group exits, there is a high probability of a sudden, uncomfortable lull in the conversation. This catastrophe can only be averted by the addition of new members until the marginal propensity to stare awkwardly at surrounding groups having much more fun equals zero. Group members will then ask a series of biographical questions to the newcomers until the lull threat has lapsed. For this reason, colloquial terms for this maneuver include the reticent reprieve and ring around the lullsy.
Here is how to do it. Simply stand at the bar with an eagle eye, scanning especially for groups of which one member is standing with an empty bottle and crossed legs. When he excuses himself, you soar–pecking at the eyes of anyone who gets in your flight path. As an aside, this is the rarely accepted and widely discredited etymology of the term “wing man”.
Once you’ve landed, extend your sanitized hand and say one of the following:
“Didn’t I see you at the February meeting of the United Nations General Assembly?”
“Where did you do your work in the Peace Corps?”
“How about them politics?”
From there, the conversation will practically have itself. When the person you replaced returns, introduce yourself but act like you’ve been there from the beginning. This will earn you several extra minutes of networking while the person apologizes for forgetting your name and asks you to recount your basic biographical data.
At some point, your new connections will have to throw something out, get another drink, or go talk to that person over there. Do not scurry for the exit mumbling about your roommate locking himself out of his motorcycle. Return to your perch at the bar and sip perceptively on the cheapest beverage until you spot your next opening. Eventually, various people you’ve met over the course of the event may even start coming up to you and initiating conversation all on their own. Congratulations, you’ve done it! Your hour just might end up being as happy as advertised. Have you considered running for Congress?
The next time you find yourself on the outskirts, knowing no one, feeling dull, checking the time on your cell phone every twelve seconds, fret not. You will be as fretless and as sought after as a Stradivarius if you memorize the technique taught here and put it into practice.
Should you ever feel self-conscious about what the uncouth element might call butting in, remember that networking is like fine art: with this job market, you won’t be getting your hands on it any time soon unless you steal it. Merry mingling!