I am an active networker, but I acknowledge there are a number of challenges that I need to address in order to be successful when working a room. Top of the list for me is that I’m not particularly comfortable in crowds or unfamiliar settings. That’s why I’m always on the lookout for tips, tricks, or advice that can help me meet my networking goals. It’s also why I’m inspired to share what I learn and what I experience if I think it might be of help to others.
And that advice is everywhere. For example, I am not a “woman of style and substance” (although I was once featured in Women’s World … ), but I came across a helpful article in More magazine that had some solid guidance, entitled “Tricks to Command a Room When You’re not a Natural Born Leader.”
Perfect! After all, even shrinking violets harbor fantasies of delivering inspirational monologues, of commanding a room with presence and substance.
Taking a step back, the concept of commanding a room doesn’t necessarily mean becoming the center of everyone’s attention: engaging in one or two productive conversations in a room full of people — versus standing awkwardly by the shrimp cocktail, hoping that someone introduces themselves — qualifies.
Hey, we all find ourselves out of our element from time to time, but with the confidence that comes with preparation, we can improve our chances of expanding our professional networks with each event attended. Here’s what I took away from More:
- Have a Plan of Action: Familiarize yourself with the purpose of the event, the attendees, the venue, and the format. Before you walk in, have an idea of where you’ll sit, who you’ll meet, and what you’ll talk about. Plan to arrive early if possible, in order to put yourself in a location that best suits you and where you’ll be most comfortable.
- Believe in Your Message: It’s never a good idea to ad lib your banter, especially at an event where there may be a common business interest. Instead of winging it, do some homework and be ready with facts and supporting anecdotes — or questions that will get others to engage with you while you learn.
- Know That You’re Not Alone: Overly-gregarious networkers — the ones who look at a room and dollar signs appear in their eyes — get noticed, but they also tend to wear out their welcomes quickly. Pay attention, and you’ll see that most folks are more like you. In fact, they’re probably hoping someone approaches them. And remember: networking events are for networking.
- Charisma in Context: Every networking event has its stereotypical domineering conversationalists who are more than happy to tell you how charismatic they are. But charisma is not overbearing; it can be quiet or expressive, and it always has substance. If you’ve paid attention to the first three points, you’ll find that holding a thoughtful conversation with new people is less difficult than you convinced yourself it would be.
Preparing for your next event by following these guidelines will help you to be more successful at meeting new people and engaging in productive conversations. As with any skill, however, networking takes practice. You’ve got to get your feet wet, make a few mistakes, and figure out what works for you. Walking up to someone new may test your nerves the first time you do it — and maybe even the twentieth time. Eventually, however, you’ll grow more comfortable and confident in your approach.
So check the events calendar, pick a shindig that strikes your fancy, prepare yourself, and go!