How to Work a Room: Q&A with a Networking Expert

Advice & Stories, Small Business
on March 31, 2014

Expert Networking Tips

Harper Collins

Whether you’re a fresh initiate to the job market, or a seasoned professional looking to grow your sphere of influence, networking should be high on your list of priorities. Susan RoAne, best-selling author and mind behind the now thrice-released How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections-In Person and Online, offers time-tested perspective on mastering the art of the introduction, utilizing existing connections and seeing a return on social investment.

“We all have much more vast networks than we think we do,” promises RoAne. In the following Q&A, RoAne expands upon the importance of maintaining a personal touch in an increasingly digital landscape and shares straightforward advice for making the most of every interaction.

Smarty Cents: Are you aware of any general misconceptions about what it means to “network” or the way that one should approach networking events?

Susan RoAne: There are some events that are really about networking—but working a room and socializing is a different skill than the actual networking …

The ability to circulate through a room, meet, mingle, shmooze, disengage at different events is one skill. The companion skill is being able to really network, which is what you do in the follow-up over time that solidifies the connection and turns it into a relationship.

Some people are great at working a room; they’re the life of the party. They have great fun, but they have no networking skills. They don’t follow up; they don’t stay in touch; they never remember to send you the lead they promised to send you, or introduce you to the person they said they would.

On the other hand, some people are fabulous networkers. They do what they say they’ll do; they introduce you to people … And for some of those people, the thought of walking into a room full of people they don’t know can be daunting.

SC: What would say are the most common mistakes that you see people in social situations or even at networking events?

SR: The first thing that stops people from actually working a room—or walking into a room—is that according to social research, 90 percent of American adults self-identify as shy, and walking into a room full of people is totally daunting. The first thing to remember is you’re not alone. Other people feel the same way.

The second thing that people don’t do is prepare for the room they’re walking into … There is no excuse in this day and age of bing and google that you don’t explore the group you’re walking into.

The other thing we have to prepare is how am I going to introduce myself that relates to this particular event, whether it’s business or social … You have to have a seven to nine second self-introduction, because if it’s longer than that, it’s too long.

SC: You think a stale, long-winded self-introduction is one of the most common networking mistakes?

SR: Yes, and there are three traits [of a good self-introduction]:

  • It’s 7-9 seconds.
  • It’s linked to the event you’re going to, because you have to give people context for why you’re there. That will help them make conversation with you.
  • Even if it’s a business event, you don’t want to give your title. A friend of mine who is a speech coach, Patricia Fripp, tells me that we should instead share the benefit of what we do. So I say, “I’m Susan RoAne, and I turn people into mingling mavens.” By doing that, it gives them the opportunity to ask questions.

SC: So the introduction is more than just an introduction—it’s a way to engage someone in conversation?

SR: Right. It’s saying, “How about you?” You’re inviting them to tell you about them, they know a little bit about you now, and then you’re in a conversation. A lot of people think a conversation is asking people a lot of questions about themselves. But that’s actually bad advice.

Good conversation has three attributes: You observe, you ask questions, and you reveal—but nothing too personal. It’s fair to ask questions, but it’s equally fair to reveal, share stories—people love stories. They connect with stories, not facts.

And I think the important thing that we want to say is that knowing how to work a room and increasing your opportunities to meet people face to face who can connect you—or introduce you to someone who can connect you—puts you in the catbird seat. Because there’s someone vouching for you that’s actually met you … So it’s really not only who you know. It’s who knows you.

SC: We love the portion of your book that expands on the concept of “chutzpah” and charm. There’s no getting around the fact that some people are not naturally blessed with charm. So—can they fake it?

SR: Charm is a very elusive quality; we don’t really know how to define it. How about this? The charming person makes other people feel wonderful around them.

Charming people make us feel wonderful … they are interested. And here’s one of the most important qualities when you’re face to face with people: listening. So many people are in a conversation and they have an agenda. They have a checklist.

The smart person listens to what people say, because then they’ll know what that person wants to talk about. I think we need to can our agendas. If you’ve ever met someone in a room who has an agenda, it looks like it’s almost printed on their forehead. They’re scripted. And because of that, nothing they say sounds genuine. It’s about being genuine. It’s about being sincere. It’s about being interested.

SC: So in that sense, you really can’t fake it.

SR: No, I don’t think you can, but the savvy thing is … read a local newspaper and read a national newspaper. And that way you will know what’s going on whether it’s Nashville, Tupelo, San Francisco or New York, you’ll know what’s going on in your own community, because when you go to events there will be people from your own community, but you also have to know what’s going on nationally and even internationally.

SC: Do you have any advice for those without immediate connections that are navigating the online job hunt?

SR: You DO have immediate connections! Everyone does have connections. Everyone has a network, but you just have to look at it a little differently. It may not be a network in the company you want to work for, but assess your network. You were born into one; you live in a neighborhood with a network; you have a school network … I would say we all have much more vast networks than we think we do.

SC: Another of your books, Face to Face, is all about reclaiming a personal touch in a digital world. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

SR: There are new rooms that we should be in. It’s the Facebook room; it’s the Linkedin room; it’s the Twitter room … You have to be in those rooms. Those rooms online are relationship-builders. You have to respond; you have to converse; you have to engage.

Once you are online, people make an effort to meet offline and face to face. So we should be in those online rooms, or we’re missing opportunities.

SC: Do you have advice for transitioning an online relationship into a personal, face-to-face relationship?

SR: Well first of all you have to out where people are and say, “Let’s get together for a cup of coffee.” That might mean you have to get away from your computer and get in your car or on a bus and go somewhere, but it’s investing in a relationship. You can’t just invest money; you have to invest time. But don’t wait for someone to invite you … Good things come to those who initiate.

SC: One of our favorite sayings around here is that good things come to those who hustle.

SR: See, there you go. It’s hustle. It’s initiation. Don’t wait.

SC: And what do you think about the expression showing up is half the battle? Do you think it applies to networking?

SR: Showing up is half the battle. When you get an invitation, do not wait for a better offer to come along. It’s a rampant problem. RSVP, and then show up. … You want a reputation that you can be proud of that says: I’m reliable, my word is gold, you can count on me.

SC: Any parting advice?

SR: Act like a host. See what you can do to make other people feel comfortable … And everywhere you go, do an attitude check. Go everywhere with the intention of having a great time. You never know who’s in that room that could be the best client, the best referral, the best golfing partner, the new best friend.

For more from Susan RoAne, visit her website

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