How to Work a Room – 10 Tips

Behold the power of NETWORKING…you know, that thing that everyone talks about and most people fear. Networking defined is that all-powerful process of interacting with others to cultivate productive relationships, exchange information, and develop professional or social contacts. 

Increasingly, we network by e-mail or through social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Quora, Run the World, and Twitter. That’s a godsend for shy people. With some of these platforms, you can listen to conversations and chime in on your own terms.

Still, though, the most powerful form of networking is simply being there–like when you attend professional meetings, seminars, receptions, or parties in your community.  For those occasions, knowing how to “work the room” can make the difference between a boring waste of time, and an exhilarating event that expands your circle.

90% of networking is listening, REALLY listening. Being present in your conversation is critical to connecting with another person.  If you’re truly focusing on a conversation with someone, you can find common ground much more quickly.

My Top 10 Tips

  1. Go with a purpose. Remind yourself why you’re there. Setting your goals with realistic objectives in mind is important. Staying on task is vital to your success in meeting people and gathering information.
  2. Use inside contacts. If you know the event organizer and they are around during the event, ask for an introduction to key people who you ought to meet there. Having a warm intro will make the process of networking much easier. It will also save you precious time searching for high-value networking connections.
  3. Be a lone ranger. When attending the event with people you already know, don’t fall into the trap of sticking together for the whole event…This will lessen your chances of meeting new people. Get out of that rut and deliberately approach someone you don’t know and find one way you’re connected.
  4. Get the lay of the land. Observe group formations before choosing whom to approach. Look for people who are most likely to respond positively: people standing alone who are waiting for someone to talk to; groups of twos and threes that are open to new participants. You can see this in their body language: if they are facing outward, chances are they are having a casual conversation and would be happy for others to join in.
  5. 65% of all communication is non-verbal. Be careful of the messages you’re conveying with your body language. Folding your arms in front of your body, looking at your phone (a pet peeve of mine while networking), or deliberately not making any eye contact forms a barrier people don’t want to cross and gives the impression that you’re not open to talking. In contrast, leaving your arms unfolded and maintaining eye contact will welcome them.
  6. Be memorable and break the ice. You don’t need to say something profound. Using humor can be an effective way of breaking the ice. Commenting on the venue, the program, or the food; asking people where they’ve traveled from or whether they’ve been to the event or place before; or expressing an interest in why they are attending. 
  7. Mind your handshake. Most meetings start with a cordial handshake and the tone for your entire conversation begins here. In lieu of the handshake, many people are avoiding physical contact, make sure you’re reading the moment and meet someone where they are and don’t be offended if others don’t share your zest for that handshake. When they do, put out your full hand, avoiding the half-handed (and half-hearted) grip, which can feel like a cold fish. Shake firmly, and meet their grip with an equal share of your own. Maintain eye contact and smile.
  8. Ask open-ended questions. Give others the space to answer your questions using their creativity. The more you make them think, the more they will associate you with a meaningful conversation. These are questions that ask who, what, where, when, why, and how – as opposed to questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Your goal is to explore ideas and opinions and also to show your listening skills. 
  9. Go easy on the business cards. Think quality, not quantity. Make each new contact count, rather than handing cards out like a trivial pamphlet, focus on making a meaningful connection. Be ready to hand out a business card if someone requests it or you think that you have made a good solid new connection. Forcing it on someone who doesn’t seem to want it just makes you look desperate and disingenuous.
  10. Be generous. Offer to help where you can and don’t expect anything in return. Most people appreciate a favor and want to reciprocate. In time, your virtue may turn out to be its own reward. Ask someone: “How can I help you”…and mean it.

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