How to Work a Room

Have you ever wondered how to master the art of mingling? At social functions, you can always spot a person or two who seem to effortlessly work the room, weaving in and out of conversations as they connect with almost everyone in their path. Networking with that kind of social finesse doesn’t come naturally to most – but thankfully it’s a skill that can, in fact, be learned and mastered through practice and preparation. Here are some tips to develop the skill set to catch the attention of those who will benefit your professional network:Â

  • Be positive – When you meet new people, what runs through your head? Your instinctive reaction may speak volumes in terms of the return you receive. Attitude often guides behavior, and what you think before you walk through the door will influence the “vibes” you give off to those you meet. Are you prone to negative self-talk? (“Why would they want to talk to me anyway?” “There’s no way I’ll stick out from the crowd.” “Meeting people just isn’t my strength because of _____.”) Believe it or not, many – if not most – people have the same reaction in group settings. When you shift from thinking you can’t to thinking you can, however, you can take the lead and bring others out of their shells. That kind of initiative radiates positivity and will make an impact on those you meet.
  • Make it all about them – In his seminal How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie emphasized the importance of sincerely showing interest in other people. A person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language, according to Carnegie, and remembering it works wonders to win a good first impression. Try to find ways to make the other person feel important, like talking to them about their interests. It’s easy to find common ground with most people if you listen actively when asking where they’re from, where they went to college, asking about why they chose their career path or enjoy certain hobbies. Be sure that you do so sincerely, though – there’s nothing more off-putting than faked interest. Sincere interest is usually met with reciprocal sincere interest, however.
  • Identify clear goals – What is it that you’re hoping to take away from the event? Defining even one or two objectives for a networking event or situation will help you hone in on what you need to do to meet those as well as to measure success after the fact. Are you looking to learn more about a particular field? Develop prospective sales contacts? Meet a particular person about whom you’ve heard good things? When you have your objectives in place, work backwards and prepare how to meet those, thinking of what questions to ask, how to approach a new contact, etc. This will help you avoid being tongue-tied and uncertain when in the moment, instead coming off as confident and natural.

After you’ve done all your preparation, make sure that you physically work the room – moving around increases the number of people with whom your path will cross, after all. Get out there and show them all you’ve got!

The Tipping Point of Networking

In his famed work The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses what he terms “The Law of the Few”: “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” Gladwell breaks these socially adept individuals into three personality types – connectors, mavens, and salesmen. How does each of these personality types propel social epidemics – and how can you improve your networking by taking a page from each profile’s playbook?Â

  • Connectors – Have you ever met someone who seems to “collect” people? Six degrees are more than they need to determine their separation from everyone on the planet – with connectors, it’s more like three. According to Gladwell, Connectors have a gift for bringing the world together by spanning different worlds with “curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.” To increase your connectivity, be aware of others’ needs and how you can fill them. It can be as simple as connecting two acquaintances with complementing needs and abilities (i.e. a contact needs a good graphic designer and you happen to know one in the area). When your focus is not on what you can take from others but rather what you can offer, you build “social capital” and cultivate a genuine bond of trust and respect that will pay dividends down the road. Generosity gets noticed.
  • Mavens – Where connectors gather contacts, mavens gather information. They’re the type to find a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant and then broadcast this knowledge to everyone in their network (even via fax, according to one anecdote Gladwell shares in his book). Mavens want to solve other people’s problems, almost to the point of being “pathologically helpful,” and enthusiastically share newfound knowledge. Thanks to this, Mavens start “word-of-mouth epidemics” by sharing and trading their information capital, making them an invaluable contact. Make yourself an asset to the networks of those with whom you come in contact by adding value to their day. If you have a great tip, don’t be afraid to share it – but be judicious in quality and quantity. As you build a reputation for being in the know, others will listen up when you have a message that needs sharing.
  • Salesmen – Some people are born with the charisma and persuasive personalities that make them powerful negotiators. Salesmen often have some indefinable trait beyond their words that makes them successful persuaders. While that may not be learned easily, you can learn to show integrity and trustworthiness in every business interaction. As you conduct yourself with honor and teach others about who you are and what you do at every opportunity, you’ll build relationships that will engender trust (and referrals). This will help you build a salesforce with a wider reach than your own network.

Whether you’re a connector, maven, or salesman, don’t forget to follow up with your contacts. Marketing statistics say it takes 7-12 impressions before a consumer makes a purchasing decision. Don’t stop building your network after an impression or two. Take that extra step – a phone call, email, lunch date, etc. – to continue feeding those relationships that will tip the scales toward success.