Networking the right way: It's a processArticle added by Michael Goldberg on August 27, 2014
Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg

Jackson, NJ

Joined: August 21, 2010

What is your process? Do you even have a process? Do you know how to work a room? Are you confident when speaking with people you don't know? How do you start a conversation? End a conversation? Escape from a conversation?

These are all things to consider when you show up to an event and plan on “working the room."

See also: Do you make these 6 networking mistakes?

First and foremost, it’s not about "working the room." I just happen to like that expression! Working the room (to me anyway) is about having a definitive process of walking up to a complete stranger and having a conversation. It may sound easy to do, but for most people it’s not.

Also, “working the room” is not about “shaking hands and kissing babies,” although I love that expression, too. Your purpose should not be to meet everyone at the event unless the numbers dictate you can (there are only 10 people there) or it’s appropriate to do so. Otherwise, think quality not quantity. Look to meet two or three people you like and have something in common with, or who seem fun to talk to. Of course, if you share similar marketplaces and goals, all the better! Collaborate, exchange ideas, and if it makes sense, offer to follow up to explore how you might help one another.

Here are a few ways I get all of this started — my process, that is.

Checking in

Usually, when you arrive at an event (chamber mixer, networking function, association meeting), there is a registration table with one or maybe more “greeters” signing you in, taking your business card, collecting money, selling raffles, and a slew of other things. Take the opportunity to introduce yourself and let those working the registration table know that you’re a first-timer (if you are) and that you're interested in meeting [whomever]. Be specific: maybe it's accountants focused on working with manufacturers, general managers of car dealerships, chiropractors, etc.

Whoever it is, they should be in line with your target market. Ask if they can point you in the right direction or even introduce you to those already registered who can help you. The “greeters” usually know the attendees of the event and are in a position to introduce you — if you ask! Keep your conversation light, fun, specific and very brief. Remember, they may be busy.

Large groups

I love approaching large groups (and when I say large groups I mean four, five or maybe six people) at networking-related functions. I know that by introducing myself to groups, I come across as confident, friendly, fun and collaborative. (At least I think I do.) Often, I’ll approach the member of the group that may be the most dominant — talking the most, tallest, laughing the loudest. I simply introduce myself: “It seems you are the largest group at the event so I must be in the right place! My name is Michael.” After that, I ask some specific questions, starting with, “Do you mind if I join you?” Then I may follow with, “Are you all members? How do you know each other? What does everyone do?” I find that by asking good questions, those in the group do most of the talking, forcing me to do most of the listening — and learning!

See also: In-person vs. online networking: It's the same party
Small groups

I take a similar approach when speaking with smaller groups, but I do find the need to carry the conversation a bit more than I might with a larger group. It’s just a different dynamic, and I run the risk of coming across as an intruder. I may say something like, “Good morning. My name is Michael. I’m a first-timer and wondered if you wouldn't mind some more company! If you’re in the middle of something, I’d be happy to come back.” Again, start asking questions about them.

The guy by the coffee

I say this metaphorically, but very often there is someone (man or woman) standing by themselves near the coffee, food, bar or wherever. I use this as an opportunity to come to the rescue. Not too many people want to be by themselves at networking events. Often, that person is shy or simply doesn't know how to go up to a perfectly good stranger and introduce themselves. “Good morning. My name is Michael! Very nice to meet you. Do you mind some company? What brings you to this event? What type of work do you do?” Believe me, if you’re open and genuine, you’ll make someone’s day!

See also: 5 reasons to become a conversationalist

Escaping a conversation

This is for better or worse. If you don’t like the person you’re speaking with (I know it sounds harsh, but it’s reality), then you need to be able to end the conversation tactfully and respectfully. Take comfort in knowing that if you feel there’s not a good connection, odds are, so do they. (Feel better?) One of you will have to end this thing. When the timing seems right, say something like, “Chad, it’s been nice speaking with you. I don’t want to hold either of us up as there are others we should probably meet. If I can do something to help you at this event, certainly call on me. Otherwise, good luck tonight and I’ll see you again soon!”

Another approach may be to introduce Chad to someone else who may be a better connection. But don’t do this unless you think it will be a good connection. If you find that you're speaking with someone who is self-serving, irritating, aloof, or awkward (with respect), others will too and they won’t appreciate the introduction. In fact, it may make you look pretty bad.

The key is to make great connections, learn, see how you can help others, and have fun. If you can set the wheels in motion for future conversations, all the better!

Remember, great relationships and business outcomes do not happen overnight. It takes a lot of work — the work aspect of networking. Find your groove and build momentum. Focus on what works and what you like. Make whatever adjustments you need to. It’s a process.
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