Work the room

How many times have you attended a networking function, been engaged in a conversation that was going nowhere, saw someone on the other side of the room you wanted to talk to but didn’t know how to make a graceful transition?

Or you walked into an event where everyone was engaged in little subgroups making it awkward for you to join in.

Networking is both an art and a science. The art is the chemistry that occurs between two people, whereas the science is the strategy employed to facilitate the initial meeting and build rapport.

The fundamental truth is that you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. You must be prepared. Knowing what to do and say, and when, are key elements to success. Let’s examine the nine critical aspects:

1. Your personal presence.

What attitude are you projecting? In other words, do you appear approachable or not? Our body language sends very powerful non-verbal messages – what image are you projecting?

2. Protocol for introducing others.

  • The younger person is introduced to the older person.
  • The man is introduced to the woman.
  • The lower-level-titled person is introduced to the VIP.

3. Your introduction.

Smile, project your personality and remember to speak clearly so people can hear your name – you want them to remember it.

  • “Hi, I’m Jack Jones with R.C. Marshall Company.”


4. Your elevator speech.

The purpose of an elevator speech is to create curiosity and also to trigger a mental database search. I use this simple format because it has a nice cadence and people can repeat it.

The key to an effective elevator speech is to identify who you are and your value message, i.e. the value you can bring to that relationship. The underlined words below are the framework for developing an effective message:

  • I work with sales leaders who want to grow their business and increase their profitability.
  • I work with sales organizations who want to take the chill out of cold-calling and put the profit back into negotiations.

5. Making small talk

As an introvert, small talk doesn’t come easily to me in large group settings. I prefer the one-on-one or smaller group format. However, we must all adapt and be flexible. Here are some strategies I use to overcome this deficiency:

  • Ask questions. I don’t learn when I’m talking – I learn when I’m listening. People think you are a great conversationalist when you hear what they are saying. They appreciate your attention and interest. Perception – what people think about who you are – is key. Here are a few sample questions to consider:
      • I’m curious, what are your thoughts regarding…?
      • What has been your experience with…?
      • Have you encountered a situation where…?

  • Be real. There is no such thing as a perfect opening line or statement.

6. Concluding the conversation.

When you are talking with someone and need to move on to connect with someone else, how do you break-away gracefully?

If you want to contact the person following the event, say: “Joan, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation … I apologize but I find I need to excuse myself … though I’d like to continue our conversation. Would you be open to me contacting you to schedule a time for us to talk? (Smile) Would either Thursday or Friday work for you? I look forward to getting together (smile and shake hands).”

If you do not want to follow-up after the event simply say: “Joan, I apologize, I need to excuse myself. I’ve enjoyed talking with you. I hope you enjoy the program.”

7. Timely follow-up.

When you meet someone who impresses you and you want to continue the conversation, be sure to contact them – email, personal note, phone – within three days and include something specific about your conversation to help them recall you.

I am often asked how many connections are reasonable to make at a networking function. That’s difficult to answer since it depends on your goal. For me personally, it’s never about the number of connections but rather the quality of the conversation. My goal is to build relationships not collect business cards. However, speed networking is a viable strategy when you want to build a network of many casual relationships and select who you want to follow up with after the event.

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