How To Get Wallflowers to Engage at Networking Events

Mike Duseberg engages and entertains crowds at a VIP event in Las Vegas.

Mike Duseberg engages and entertains crowds at a VIP event in Las Vegas.

Once you’ve got people to attend your event, how do you get them to engage each other and connect?

The socialites and “master networkers” will canvass the room, and other people require a cocktail (or two) to “loosen up.”

However, there’s always a group of people on the edges, who are never quite sure who to talk to or what to say. Some people call them wallflowers, and I’ve read dozens of blogs and social media posts from event planners looking for ways to help these people feel comfortable enough to connect and network.

As a reformed wallflower myself, I can tell you that I always needed a reason to approach a stranger at a social event. I don’t think that makes me weird - most people don’t enjoy making a “cold approach” to a stranger.

Decorations and food can start conversations. Unfortunately, “Wow, this is really crazy lighting… everything is blue in here” and “This lamb shank is delicious…” can easily be responded to with conversation-crushing responses like “yeah” and “uh huh.” Awkward silence follows for everyone.

Entertainment can start conversations, too - photo booths, games, music for dancing, and karaoke are at least intended to bring people together. These are definitely fun forms of entertainment that people remember and enjoy, although they can easily be enjoyed in small groups and cliques. They don’t really bring people together, and they don’t coax wallflowers out of their shells.

To get wallflowers to engage at your party, you need to bring the party to them.

Dean Jackson, online marketing guru, points out that few people really engage that way. If you were a guest in my living room, and I told you there were cookies and milk in the refrigerator, you probably wouldn’t go into the kitchen to get some. On the other hand, if I held a plate of cookies and a glass of milk out to you in the living room, you’d probably take some. It feels more polite, and the barrier to participation is much lower.

That’s exactly what makes “strolling” entertainers so powerful.

As a close-up magician, I learned to start performing “at the edges” of an event, rather than jumping right into the center. The people in the middle of a party are the hardcore networkers, connectors, and power players. They’re entertaining themselves with conversation already.

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The people on the edges, however, need something to help them engage. I start by entertaining a few people, and the laughs and applause attract the attention of people nearby. I draw them in as well, forming a nice crowd. I ask people their name and details about themselves- where they’re from, what they do, etc- and introduce them to the group so that everyone hears a little bit about everyone else.

By the time I’m done, they’ve had some fun, made a small crowd of new friends, and they’ve got an exciting, shared experience they can build a conversation on. The ice has broken, the friendships have begun, and I’m on my way to do the same thing in another corner of the room.

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Even better, the applause, laughs, and crowds attract the power networkers and socializers. They don’t want to miss what everyone else is clearly enjoying. That mingles the socializers with the wallflowers and connects them over a common experience, which helps the wallflowers feel empowered to engage them. Now there’s a better flow of conversation throughout the room.

Michael Duseberg creates events guests give rave reviews, remember forever, and look forward to repeating. He's entertained for companies including Emerson , Kaman Industrial Technologies, and UBS, as well as some of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world.

Jeanne Duerst