Going to networking events, especially ones where you don't know anyone, can be stressful. Meeting strangers and trying to make a good first impression requires a concentrated effort. Unfortunately, I've seen more than a few people send the wrong message and scare people off at events - without ever uttering a single word.
Resting Crabby Face (RFC) - Yes, It's a Thing!
Many people don't realize when they're in unfamiliar situations and their awareness is heightened that their face makes an expression that can be interpreted as disinterest, anger or frustration. And, while they're not feeling any of those things, this form of non-verbal communication is telling the people around them another message. I don't know about you, but I find it MUCH easier to walk up to a smiling stranger to introduce myself than one that looks upset.
Tip: Create A Visual Reminder To Put On Your Happy Face
A simple way to overcome this is to use a technique that reminds you to smile. I tell my clients to put their watch on their other wrist, or a ring on a different finger. Then, each time they notice it's in the wrong spot while at the event it will trigger them to check their facial expression and smile. Over time, if you do this enough, you'll find yourself naturally smiling at events. Bringing constant awareness to it will help you train yourself to send the right non-verbal body language and facial expressions. All it takes is practice!
P.S. - Asking Good Questions Can Help You Feel Less Intense Too
Besides evaluating your facial expressions to make sure you are approachable, it's also a good idea to practice some positive, open-ended questions to get (and keep!) the conversation going. By engaging people with questions that require more than a one-word answer, you can give yourself the opportunity to sit back and be a good listener - something the also makes a great first impression. Asking questions like, "What brought you to the event?" And, "Tell me about your work," are opportunities to give the stranger a chance to talk about a subject they know well - themselves. Which give you a chance to breathe. Not to mention, provides the opportunity to smile and nod so you can offer some more positive non-verbal cues.
Remember, when it comes to networking, as Doris Day said, "People hear what they see."