Networking made easy: how to work a room

By: Andy Bounds

Date: 21 April 2017

Networking made easy: how to work a roomMost people hate networking. Which is a bit of a problem, since you need to meet new people.

If you don't, your current contacts will have to sustain you from now until retirement. And that's just not going to happen.

The good news is, to have more great contacts, you only need master two things:

  • networking with strangers; and then
  • building relationships with them.

And that's it.

Let's look at the first one. I've spent years studying what the best networkers do. Their conversations contain four elements: in - you - me - out.

In other words, get in the conversation, speak about you (the other person). Then answer their questions about me. And then get out.

Get in

When working a room, you have to approach people. They will either be on their own or in a group. If they're on their own, approach them and say "Hello, I'm Andy' (though maybe use your own name) or ask "Mind if I join you?'

They'll respond with "Hello, I'm Jane' or "Sure - please join me'. Either way, you're now in the conversation.

If you decide to approach a group, go to one that isn't bunched together. Bunched groups' body language says "back off". But going up to an open group and saying "Mind if I join you?' is fine.

Ask about you

You want the conversation to start about them, not yourself. For loads of reasons. It's more polite, and it's easier to ask about them than it is to be interesting about yourself. Also, when they ask about you, you'll be better able to tailor your response based on what they've said.

The best approach is to ask good questions, so prepare in advance. These can be the usual conversation-starters, like "who do you work for?", "what do you do?", "how long have you worked there?", and so on.

And try the more useful ones - "what are you responsible for?", "what are your priorities?", "what are you working on at the minute?".

These uncover their priorities and help you impress them.

Be interesting about me

They're going to ask about you. You know this question's coming. So be ready for it. Prepare in advance how you'll respond. I advise focusing on two things - afters and stories.

In other words, introduce yourself by explaining why people are better off after working with you.

If I say "I help people communicate better than they thought possible', people say "how do you do that?' or "bet you're busy!' or "we need you at our place'.

When they ask one of these questions, use a relevant story. This is much more interesting than discussing your company's past. Would you rather hear someone say "well, I started studying communication 25 years ago and since then…' or would you prefer: "Well, you know how you just mentioned you're responsible for winning sales? I recently helped a sales team boost turnover by 50% by changing how they communicate.'

Get out of the conversation

If you're speaking with someone you want to meet up with after the event, tell them you'd like to continue your conversation at a later date. Ask for their business card. Ask when they want you to call them. Ask if you can write a reminder on the back of their business card. And then call them then.

If you don't want to meet again afterwards, you have to know how to end the conversation. If you don't, you'll get stuck with them for ages. Both of you will hate it. Here's a good ending:

You: "Who are good contacts for you here?"
Them: "Bankers."
ou: "OK. If I bump into any later, would you like me to introduce them to you?"
Them: "Yes please."
You: "Great, will do. I've enjoyed our conversation."
Them: "Me too. Bye."

And that's it - in - you - me - out.

Which means that, to prepare for an event:

  • script your sentences for getting in and out of conversations;
  • think of a few questions to ask, to discover useful stuff about them;
  • script how you'll describe yourself.

That's what networking ninjas do. You're about to become one.