Five tips for working a room like a charm

The prospect of networking in person can turn some professionals into rabbits in the headlights. Here are some ways to avert the fear

You’ve just stepped into a major event in the finance industry’s calendar, with a huge crowd of people spread out before you and a veritable banquet of networking opportunities to pursue. But there are only so many hours in the event that you will be able to exploit for networking purposes – and only so many people that you will be able to fit in. You start to get nervous and flustered, and you haven’t even begun to speak to anyone yet.

We’ve all been there.

But there are ways and means of defending yourself against the issue of having too many options on the table, and too much adrenaline in your system – much of which actually flows from positive areas of your psyche, such as the excitement of meeting new people and the eagerness to make a good first impression while you network.

Here are a few tried-and-tested methods for working the room:

1. Do your homework

As mentioned above, you will only have so much time in which to network at your Big Industry Event, given all the seminars and speeches that will be crammed into the schedule. So, scope out who will be speaking and attending. The event’s web page will almost certainly have the necessary details. Draw up a shortlist of people you will want to speak to, paired with some good reasons why. Stack them in order of priority. That way, you won’t be bounding up to people virtually at random and confusing them with your very presence.

2. Locate your natural charm

Some people take the view that you’re either a slicker or you’re not – but this is nonsense. Charm isn’t actually a set of affected behaviours; it’s a collection of traits that we all possess. As networking author and expert Susan RoAne notes, charm is “a combination of warmth, good nature, positive attitude, a good sense of humour, charisma, spirit, energy and an interest in others”. In other words, if you engage warmly with the people you speak to, they will find you charming.

3. Maintain open body language

That natural charm within the words you use should be echoed in the way you present yourself. Hands or arms in front of your torso or face are out, as this kind of posture can make you look defensive or shifty, and may form a barrier between yourself and your target. Save any phone fidgeting for the end of the chat, if you have managed to work yourself into the position of exchanging contact details.

4. Don’t pitch. Have conversations

It’s absolutely inescapable that people approach networking occasions with a certain amount of goal orientation – ie, “What can I get out of this, in terms of an edge?” However, to begin your chats from that launch pad would be highly counterproductive. It’s presumptuous, alienating – and a bit rude. People love talking about themselves. So ask them about their experiences, the things they’ve learned, how they accomplished their key achievements. Turn that into a standard, back-and-forth conversation. Make sure you mentally log anything that sounds like advice – and in the midst of all that, explain how you could help the person you’re speaking to – an introduction to another treasurer facing similar challenges and issues, perhaps. It will make it far more likely that they’d be happy to help you.

5. Follow up before you’re forgotten – and in a friendly tone

The aftercare part of the networking experience requires the same subtlety and careful judgement that you exercised in the room. Don’t presume that the person you spoke to is now a meal ticket or a rung on your career ladder. Simply send a friendly, upbeat email explaining how much you enjoyed the encounter and that you found parts x, y and z of what they had to say really interesting. Add your new connection to your LinkedIn profile. With any luck, it will mark the beginning of a fruitful, informal mentorship that will provide you with a strong resource of advice and wisdom.

Above all…

In the end, it’s depth that counts in the networking experience – not numbers. It’s much better to come away from a networking event having handed out five business cards to people you have spoken to at length, than 20 to folks you’ve barely spoken to at all.

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