Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Work a Room With Confidence

Last week I discussed how to effectively use your business card as a networking tool.

But, what if you are unsure about initiating conversations?

“Working a room” or “schmoozing” can be intimidating for many people.

“Working a room” doesn’t mean flitting from person to person, pumping hands, and aggressively handing out your business card.

It also doesn’t mean scanning the room for bigger and better opportunities when you are already in the middle of a conversation.

It simply means being alert for networking opportunities. It means keeping your eyes--and your mind -- open.

Take advantage of any offers to introduce you to people you don’t know. If you don’t receive such offers, or if there is a particular person or group of people you would like to meet, it is perfectly appropriate to ask the host for an introduction or introduce yourself.

What if you walk into a party or event and find that you don’t know anyone? First, don’t panic.

You basically have four options:

•Find the farthest out-of-the-way corner and hide there for the duration of the event. This practically guarantees you a miserable time, and no contacts.

•Stand there and hope someone comes up to you. Of course, if you choose this option, chances are you will find yourself standing alone and feeling awkward for quite a while.

•Find someone else who is alone, approach that person with a friendly smile, and introduce yourself. This is an effective strategy.

•Or, in a large group, approach a person that is in a gathering of three or more people. Two people might be engrossed in a real conversation and wouldn’t want to be disrupted.

Initiating a conversation can be relatively simple and painless -- if you prepare ahead.

Have your professional handshake and 10 second self-introduction ready. Look the person in the eye, and use one of these suggestions for opening lines: make an upbeat observation, share a pleasant self-revelation, or ask an open-ended question.

If you want to move from contact to connection, make sure you exchange business cards. Later, when you return to your home or office, note right on the card where you met the person and any pertinent information you recall about him or her.

You shouldn’t worry if your networking attempts don’t meet with success every time.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we are going to run into people we genuinely dislike or don’t wish to see again. When this happens, the best thing to do is to cut the conversation short in a polite but firm way.

“Sorry. Gotta run” won’t cut it.

Instead, try, “It was nice meeting you, but I must be going now” or “Let me introduce you to …” or, “I promised ___ that I would talk to him ...” -- all perfectly acceptable ways to bow out.

No matter how you feel about the person, don’t forget to smile and say goodbye. Never “burn a bridge.”

Besides, the other person may be happy to make an exit, too!

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