Networking Part II: How to Work a Room
by Kaitlin Schafer | October 9, 2015
Knowing how to “work the room” at an event can make the difference between a stressful waste of time and a meaningful experience. Here are seven tips you can use to work the room, then make sure everyone you meet remembers you when you leave it!
- Make a plan. Do your homework! Can you get ahold of the guest list? If so, who do you want to meet? If possible, connect with a few individuals prior to the event. Connecting ahead of the face-to-face meeting can eliminate some of the discomfort that comes with meeting someone new at a networking event. Once you meet the individual, you can pick right up with where your conversation left off via LinkedIn or email.
- Create talking points. Read the news and think about (noncontroversial) topics that can be used for interesting conversation starters. Make an effort to ask open-ended questions, show enthusiasm and genuine interest when someone is sharing information with you. Please refer to Networking Series Part I for tips on how to successfully prepare for small talk.
- Set goals. When I go to networking events, I like to challenge myself to meet a minimum number of people. Try setting a few goals of your own. For instance, aim to learn at least two new pieces of information from each person you meet or practice your elevator pitch with three different people. Think about significant takeaways here – what will make this networking opportunity a success for you?
- Fly solo. Yes, you read it right – when you “work the room”, work it alone! I have been guilty of this one, especially when I was in college. As an undergrad, I had the “ughhh I don’t know if I want to go to this” type attitude towards networking events. After much debate, I’d usually make myself go to the event anyway. Once I was committed to going, I would seek out a friend or classmate that was planning to attend, and we’d then end up sticking together for the entirety of the event. Don’t fall into this trap! I know it’s much easier said than done; we naturally do not want to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. Trust me, chatting with friends will lessen your chance of connecting with new people, and at the end, you will find yourself questioning whether the event was even worth your time.
- Observe and assess. Look for people that are standing alone at the bar or near a food station. These are great places to strike up a conversation with a fellow networker who isn’t already invested in a conversation. Also, scout out groups of twos and threes that are open to new participants. When you try to talk yourself out of approaching a group, think of it this way - your chances of having a decent conversation are better, because now you’re talking to two or three people, not just one!
- Move! When I’m at a networking event, I aim to talk with each person I meet for five minutes or less. This gives me enough time to introduce myself, learn about the other person, and make a good impression all while preventing the conversation from dragging. How do you exit a conversation without making it awkward? One method is to explain that you have a pressing task – such as greeting the person that just walked into the room. Extend your hand, state that you enjoyed meeting and learning about X topic, offer your business card and move on.
- Take notes. Networking doesn’t end when the event ends! Take a few minutes when you get home to jot some notes down while your memory is still fresh. On the back of each business card you received, write down a few talking points that you can include in a follow up email. When writing the email, make it personal! Follow up on anything you talked about at the event. Reference a joke that was mentioned or share an article based on a topic that you think would be of interest to him/her. People are more likely to be receptive to you when you personalize your messages.
The convenience of texting and social media outlets like Facebook have made it TOO easy for us to avoid or skip interacting with others in face-to-face situations. Networking takes practice, which means you need to put yourself out there by signing up for events where you can meet new people. Networking is a lifelong skill; no matter the profession, interpersonal skills are crucial in moving forward and advancing your career. I challenge you to try using these tips at your next event - you will see just how successful you can be at working a room!
"Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful."
-Mark Victor Hansen