Advice:Working a room – the ultimate networking guide

By , published on 28th January 2011

Think about everyone you’ve ever met. All right, you can’t, there’s too many. But if you did, you’d see that you either came across them for the first time in a face to face situation, over the phone, on the internet (email), through some hard copy correspondence or by reputation (you read or heard about them). Of these, business networking (face to face) can often be the best way to connect. But…

But whether you’re confident or shy, networking can be a daunting prospect. There is so much that can be said on networking, but if you want the most important stuff – here it is! Never has so much key information been crammed into one article!

Work your way through this list of my top tips and pointers for ‘accelerated development’ and a quicker route to making networking pay its way. It’s all about building relationships, because most business arises from relationships where both parties know, like and trust each other.

1. Get yourself in the right state… and not ‘a right state’. Enter the room with your head held high, shoulders back and a confident smile. Most people feel nervous and perhaps you’re just the same as them. Just don’t let it show.

2. Approach open groups. Target individuals and twos and threes who have an open stance (semi-circle). Beware of the closed twos, threes and four+ groups (stood facing inwards in a closed circle) unless there are people in them whom you already know.

3. Identify those you feel comfortable with. Are you more at ease talking with the same sex or the opposite sex? With those of your own age group? With those the same height or smaller than you? With those dressed as informally/formally as you? With people on their own or those in groups? Decide who you can ‘gel’ with most easily and go for those first.

4. Ask questions on things you have in common. It’s easier to make small talk on things you share with others, eg travel to the event, the food, the weather, the venue, the speaker you’re going to hear, the organisers, the subject of the speaker, etc. Memorise a list of questions along these lines and then you won’t be stumped for what to say when you arrive. Later on, questions about business can be gradually introduced, and as you learn more about your contacts, you can ask questions that begin to find out their needs and your opportunities.

5. Think long-term. You are not at a networking event to sell, but to find contacts and leads. Regular networking is about meeting new people, keeping in touch with others, getting to know people, sharing industry news and views, and building mutually beneficial relationships. The only thing you are selling is yourself. Establish some friendships and then when your service or product is needed they’ll know who to call or recommend to someone else. Keep in touch. Networking is a long-term strategy.

6. Think ‘relax’.
If you’re not in a competition to come back to the office with more business cards than anyone else, you won’t be rushing from one person to the next. You’ll want to develop conversations, ‘go deeper’, enjoy chatting, find out where people ‘itch’ and what keeps them awake at night. If you see things this way, you’ll be more relaxed.

7. Learn to listen. The good news for introverts is that they often make the best networkers. Why? Because shy people don’t talk much about themselves; they spend time listening. That helps them understand people and build one-to-one relationships, which fosters trust. Motormouths tell a lot of people about themselves but never find out much about others! You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that ratio to listen and see how you can help. By being aware of needs, you can not only see if you can help, but you can connect other people in your network together. That gets you at the heart of a network, and gets you talked about. Extroverts should keep their mouths in check and learn to listen more.

8. Prepare your elevator speech. First impressions count. You don’t want to fumble around for the right words when you are introducing yourself and your work. Get a good intro ready and rehearsed. This is often called an Elevator Speech. (That phrase comes from the time when script writers in Hollywood bumped into movie moguls in a lift, and only had a few moments to pitch their ideas before the studio bosses got to their floor and stepped out.) It’s about grabbing interest in a short space of time, and arousing an interest that prompts an enquiry.

You don’t do that with just stating your name, job title and company. A good idea is to follow this simple guide: “We help ___________ [target market] + [benefit].”

For example, “We help accountants find the right clients.”

If the person responds with ‘How do you do that?’ you’ll know you’re doing it right.

Your Elevator Speech should only be given when someone asks, ‘What do you do?’ When you are meeting someone at the beginning, just give your first name and nothing else. Wait until you are asked abut your work and it won’t seem like you are on a ‘hard sell’ which can be off-putting. If you want to master the art of elevator speeches, get my Elevator Speech Bible.

9. Target the loners.
If you are shy, it’s easier to speak to the other ‘singles’ in the room than to approach groups. You have something in common – you’re both on your own and need someone to talk to, so you avoid looking like a lemon! Spot the wallflowers and introduce yourself. They’ll be very grateful for being ‘rescued’. But don’t babysit them for the whole event – they can have a tendency to ‘cling’ for safety. Introduce them to others when you get a chance, so that you can get around to meeting other people.

10. Ask open questions.
An open question begs a response and so continues a conversation. A closed question results in just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and doesn’t lead anywhere. So ask open questions. Good ones begin with ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’ because they need an explanation in response. If someone asks you a closed question, follow your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with another question. For more on this, check out the Great Networking Questions Bible.

11. Talk about your passion. You can sometimes come across as dull and uninteresting if you’re not careful. One way to overcome this is to move the conversation round to whatever fascinates you, intrigues you or sparks your imagination. That way, you’ll have a natural enthusiasm about your subject which means you won’t be dull. But don’t overdo it. Stick too long on your pet subject and you could bore the pants off someone. Look for facial expressions, body posture and even verbalised hints that someone may want to change the subject! And when you have finished on your subject, don’t just dry up. Keep the conversation flowing by asking your conversation partner what they are most interested in.

12. Develop interest in other people.
The best advice I can give you is to talk less, listen more and ask more questions. You need to show a genuine interest in your conversation partner, and you do that by asking questions that allow them to talk. Keen listening will help you think of the right questions, and take the focus off yourself and onto the other person. Be more interested than interesting.

13. Become a referrer.
If you go round selflessly recommending other people and their services, what goes around comes around! Become an advocate for others without expecting anything in return and people will soon come to you for help. You become an advisor. And if other people have been helped, they are likely to feel indebted to you. They’ll be willing to reciprocate by referring you to others, and others to you. Give and you will receive!

14. Use business cards to best advantage. Always remember your business cards, offer them to others, and ask for theirs. Consider your photo on your card – it helps people to remember you. Use the space on the back to explain more about the benefits of what you do, and to perhaps offer a free report or a special gift. Perhaps offer something to attract people to your website or to get them to contact you again.

This ‘added value’ increases the chance of your relationship continuing after the networking event. When you take their business card, look at it in front of them, before putting it carefully away, not just shoving it in your pocket without looking. Taking care of the card in front of them shows them you are interested and grateful. Finally, write something on their card about your conversation and where and when you met. That will help you remember what you discussed when you get back to the office. That will help you re-establish your relationship when you make a follow-up phonecall.

15. Always follow up. Although this is something you’ve done after you’ve been, it’s a vital cog in making all your ‘work the room’ stuff count. If you made a reasonable connection with someone, found a lead or a need, agreed to send something or meet sometime – always follow up. Even if it’s just a simple email, it’s better than nothing. A phonecall is more personal. But don’t send unsolicited emails to people you didn’t speak to or barely met – it can be viewed as cold calling and is unlikely to get a positive response.

Once you begin working a room with confidence and purpose, you’ll see major benefits like more openings, better contacts and more business from your networking. And all because you took a little time to learn how to properly work a room!

Rob’s Quick Tips

Productive, effective networking comes from three things:

  1. Confidence – this is the belief that you can do it!
  2. Competence – this is the skills and the knowledge to perform!
  3. Consistency – this is doing it time after time so it becomes natural.

Once you nail all these three, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a professional networker!

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Rob Brown

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown is one of the UK's leading authorities on business networking and referrals. He is an inspirational conference speaker and author of over 40 publications, including Amazon best-seller How To Build Your Reputation and the free ebook: 'The 13 Commandments of Turning Relationships Into Profits'

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