Whether you think of them interchangeably, mingling and networking are not the same thing. In action, the two words are often confused. The confusion comes because the nature and purpose of the event to be attended hasn’t been carefully considered.
If you are attending a wedding reception and dinner, you are expected to meet and mingle with other guests, making small talk and learning about their relationship with the bride and groom. When you attend a faculty gathering or a business dinner, generally you will mingle and meet others beforehand, either at a formal reception or at a preliminary pre-dinner meeting.
Mingling and introducing yourself to other guests is a very “guest-ful” thing to do. Your host will greet everyone attending and make some preliminary introductions, but guests are expected to take it from there. Your role as a guest is to help set the scene for a lovely time, which includes “making the rounds” greeting and introducing yourself to other guests.
Networking is essentially mingling with a specific outcome in mind. It is usually associated with professional and business events. The protocols associated with what is sometimes referred to as "working the room," involve the practical social skills that help you make good judgments, also known as "social savvy."
For instance, you may attend a networking event hosted by a professional organization where you come prepared to meet others in your field who may be helpful to you career-wise. But you may also attend a friend’s birthday party and happen to meet someone on the board of an association you aim to join, or who is able to refer someone's name to you for contact. Mingling can merge into networking.
The above descriptions show the similarities between mingling and networking. Which brings us to the key difference between the two: follow-up. Here is a breakdown of what this looks like:
Generally speaking, mingling is sort of a precursor to networking. But when you network, you begin establishing a relationship. Mingling is about meeting and greeting and is a first step in becoming familiar with others.
Regardless of the type of gathering you plan to attend, it’s important to remember that both mingling and networking require purposeful behavior. Being prepared to participate is one step closer to being comfortable in a social setting.
Nothing builds confidence more than showing up and knowing that mingling is always what you’re going to do. And not only does this build your confidence, it helps others feel more comfortable around you. You can be counted on to fearlessly make introductions, begin conversations, and bring people together.
When mingling segues into networking, you know that contact and follow-up are the keys to a successful relationship beginning.
All that’s left is to go out and do it! You have nothing to lose.