HOW TO WORK THE ROOM
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
These tips were originally published in a Fast Company article I co-wrote* in 2013. It seems to me that we all feel as clumsy as ever at events and meetups so I got them out and dusted them off as a reminder.
Understand that networking is not "selling yourself" or self-promotion—it is about developing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with professional colleagues.
Understand that you do not have to change your personality to succeed—turning yourself into a pushy salesperson won’t work. Networking has to be authentic. You can and should be yourself.
Get over rejection—tell yourself that a turndown is your counterpart’s loss, not yours.
Start with an event where it will be particularly easy to meet people, for example a speed networking event where short three- to five-minute meetings are pre-arranged. Meeting people this way will help build your confidence.
Warm up before the show—reach out to see who will be attending the event and set up appointments to meet. Most conferences today publish a list of attendees prior to the show via event-specific social networks, mobile apps, or Facebook pages.
Change your mindset from "I hate working the room with strangers" to "I like meeting people".
Apply the 1-2-3 rule—people at events tend to congregate in groups of ones, twos, and threes. Approach the "ones" first. They are people just like yourself, shy to engage with others; they will be the most welcoming. Twos and threes are more difficult to approach, but read on.
Look for Twos Standing in a V Formation—when two people are standing in an open V formation, they are usually open to others joining their discussion. Avoid people standing directly across from each other; this indicated they are engaged in a closed conversation.
Use the ballroom waltz trick for joining a closed group of two—follow this advice for "breaking in" to talk to someone you know. Approach the other person he is speaking to and ask permission from him to join. For an elegant example, check out how Ralph Feinne’s does this in the movie The English Patient in this video. (The action happens at 1:06.)
Use the O or U Rule for groups of three or more—a group of people standing in a circle is the hardest to join. Look for groups arranged in a U formation.
Be professional in men/women interactions—professional is not flirtatious and flirtatious is not professional. Decide which one you want.
Act like the host—introduce people to each other. Acting as an agent for others removes some of the self-consciousness of social interactions.
Pay it forward—help your counterpart; helping people builds trust and belief. The most useful thing you can say in a social-professional setting is, "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Be bold—blaze your own trail. Take a chance.
*David Lavenda a technology strategist, was the co-author.