I love parties. And by parties, I mean high-class benefit, $150 per head, galas – especially when I get to attend them for free. Never mind the upscale venues, gourmet meals, red carpet entrances, and expensive champagne – these events earn their worth solely by their networking potential.

Professional parties, whether they be of they socialite gala variety, corporate business lunch kind, or end of summer office barbecue type, can be majorly beneficial if you know how to maximize their potential. Personally, I’m largely intimidated by the prospect of networking a high-profile room; walking up to a powerful party guest (who is richer, smarter, and more well-connected than this lowly little intern) and introducing myself has always been daunting. How do I interrupt someones conversation gracefully? What could I possibly have to say? What should I even ask for? Luckily, I’ve gotten some great practice and some even better advice from a few select mentors on how to successfully navigate one of these events. Read on for a few tips I wouldn’t have survived without, and you’ll be a regular party-going pro in no time.

1. Man Up

You have to get over being shy. Period. Yes it’s weird and scary to walk up to an intimidating stranger in a room full of people you don’t know and try to strike up a conversation. You’re going to have to get over that. Look for a small group of people, between two and four, and as cliché as it sounds, don’t underestimate the power of a smile. Making small talk with the people around you in line for the buffet or the bar is also a great way to ease into a potentially fruitful conversation. Open with a comment about the event you’re at, ask how long they’ve been involved with the company/organization, ask their opinion on the keynote speaker, and if all else fails compliment them on their outfit; let’s be real – flattery never fails. Still too intimidated? This brings me to tip number two.

2. Use the Buddy System.

Going into a scary situation is always easier with a friend. If you’re at a company event, pair up with a fellow intern and make a point of introducing yourself to the higher-ups; you can start simply by thanking them for the opportunity provided and sharing some of the experience you’ve gotten while there. If you’re alone without a wing-man at a party, scan the room for someone else who looks a little lost. I recently found myself at a benefit gala for a local non-profit I was volunteering for. I was probably the youngest person there and completely in over my head. I remembered one of my old bosses telling me that networking was always easier with a buddy, so I looked for someone else standing alone on the fringes of the crowd. Before long, I met a recent grad who now works for a consulting firm in the city. We started chatting, and could both relate to the networking intimidation factor, however, together, it was a lot easier to approach people and by the end of the night we had not only made a new friend but also a lot of great contacts.

3. Don’t Have too Much Fun

That being said, it’s also important to remember that if you’re there in a professional capacity, you’re not there to have fun. If you want to make some potentially very valuable contacts, do yourself a favor and don’t get sidetracked by the open bar or the temptation to let loose with the other interns after hours. Save that for a private party.

4. Get Involved

To become a party professional, you have to first get invited to these soirees. Volunteering for non-profits are a great way to get access to high-profile guest lists. Not only will you most likely get in for free if you volunteer for an event, but you’ll also get the chance to meet people in a wide range of organizations and with an even wider range of connections. You never know who you’re going to meet. This organization may have nothing to do with your career path, but one of the guests might know somebody you would benefit from meeting, or live in a city you’re trying to move to and be willing to recommend some contacts. Meet as many people as you can to reap the most benefits.

5. Remember it’s Not Weird

The first few times you do it, it’s going to seem pretty strange walking up to a total stranger and introducing yourself. But remember: these people are professionals and this is what they are there for. Unlike you, they are no strangers to the networking game, so everyone in the room will be expecting it and most of them will be welcoming it. Always have business cards on hand to give to those you have meaningful conversations with, and get their information so that you can follow-up. As long as you stay friendly, keep your interactions professional and positive, and remember to ask yourself how this new contact can benefit from meeting you and not just how you can benefit from meeting them, you’ll be on your way to building a social network like a pro.

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