Working the Room. Keys to Success
Business development plans come in all shapes and sizes, and with all kinds of strategies to develop and nurture long term relationships leading to business opportunities. Networking is an important part of that plan. You take time to select an event to meet the people in your target market, identify who is likely to be there, practiced your quick pitch and dressed smartly. But you find yourself dreading it. Why? Because walking into a networking event forces you out of your comfort zone. How do you make the most of the next 2 hours? Here are some tips:
- Don’t go in cold. Since you have taken the time to identify who may be in attendance, start planning your conversation starters. Think about timely topics, industry related questions and other relevant talking points so that you may spark a conversation at a moment’s notice.
- Dress for success. Identify the personality of the event, the business position of the attendees and the environment of the venue. Dress one step above what you think the group will be donning. Don’t wear high maintenance clothes that require your attention (read: no shirts that don’t stay tucked, plunging necklines or wraps that keep slipping off your shoulder) Make sure you have pockets to keep business cards– keep yours in one pocket and the cards you collect in the the other pocket.
- Hold your head high. Look confident, even if you are incredibly uncomfortable in the networking environment. The old saying, “fake it ’til you make it” has some truth here.
- Go to the furthest food station or bar. When you walk into a room, scan it. Then cross the room to the further bar or food station. This gives you time to assess the group and see who you may know. See someone along the way, stop and say hello. Don’t see anyone you know, simply get something to drink or eat and strike up a conversation with the folks next to you.
- Prioritize your activities at the event. If you know who you want to see while you are there, find that person and connect with them early on. That way you won’t miss them if they decide to leave early or get engrossed in a deep conversation with someone else.
- Find groups of 1s and 3s. If you don’t know anyone in the room, look for people who are either alone, or in a small group with an odd number (like 3 or 5 people). The single people will be thrilled to have someone to talk to and the groups of odd numbers allows for gentler interruption of conversation.
- Ask questions. People love to talk about familiar topics. Ask them questions about themselves, their careers, how they know the host, etc… If you get them talking, listen to what they say for clues for conversation segues.
- Take your turn. The conversation will eventually turn to you– so be ready to give your quick pitch. Adapt your language for any newfound commonalities amongst you and the listeners.
If networking makes you feel anxious, take a look at it through a new lens. Try to think of networking as making new friends. Take the opportunity to meet people who have a common interest as you. With thoughtful follow-up, some of these new people will blossom into long-term relationships while others may take an other path. Either way, be open to new experiences with new people. Suddenly it won’t feel like work, but rather time well spent.