One of the most common problems I have observed in many meetings & presentations is that many people do not appear to know – or are not interested in – how to ”work the room” elegantly in order to network more effectively. Here, I am talking about both speakers / presenters and members of the audience! Many audience members merely enter the room, look for a place to sit and then start playing with their smart phones, ipads / tablets or laptops and drift off into their own little world until the event starts. Many speakers / presenters do little more than set up their equipment (if necessary), and like the audience members, do their own thing until it is time to ”perform”.
It is vital to remember the purpose of these types of events is to communicate with PEOPLE from the very beginning. I do not mean from the moment the “owner” of the meeting calls everyone to order or the presenter takes his place, I mean from the moment that people start arriving in the room – that’s when it becomes a communicative activity.
These days, it is not enough to be an expert in your chosen field, you also have to be able to communicate this expertise to everyone in order to progress along your desired career path. This requires visibility and one way to obtain it is through elegant and effective presentations and another way is through the construction of an effective and wide network of fellow professionals that know and trust you. For this reason, one should always take advantage of every opportunity to expand your network and meetings are a great way to do it.
Some people become very nervous or self-conscious in these contexts and prefer to avoid introducing themselves for fear of rejection or “putting their foot in it” by saying something silly or inappropriate, however it is important to remember that many other people also suffer from the problem and they appreciate someone else making the first move! Be a leader, not a follower!
1. Arrive early if presenting or running a meeting. Get everything arranged the way YOU want it, set up your equipment (if necessary) and then get ready to greet as many people as possible!
2. If you are a member of the audience or meeting participant: Enter the room, stop in the doorway or just inside the room, look around to see who is there, find a place to sit & put your stuff down and then start networking!
3. Rapidly greet the people you know well already – focus on the unknowns! You WILL have time to talk more with the people that you already know later.
4. Look for people that look interesting – for whatever reason – and walk straight up to them.
5. Approach groups of two or three people use their Non verbal communication as a guide to whether you can join them or not.
6. Take the first steps, if you appear friendly and open, people will normally reflect your behaviour back to you!
7. Give your name & job. Then ask the other person about themselves – nothing personal!!!
8. Introduce people that you already know to people that you have just met so that they can extend their networks, too.
9. Circulate around the room – do NOT sit down and do your thing or stand up and become a wallflower!
10. Have lots of your business cards easily accessible and share them out. Get business cards from new contacts cards whenever possible. Actually read both sides of the card as soon as you receive them – it is perceived in many cultures as a sign of respect!
11. During the meeting / presentation sit beside people that you do not know. Always introduce yourself to the people sitting to the left and right of you!
12. Do not initiate conversations during the event, but you can respond – briefly!
13. During coffee breaks, change-overs, etc., continue networking.
14. Never complain about anything (speaker, ideas, installations, etc.) – if something is bad, remain “neutral” – you never know who you are talking to!
15. Beware of the cultural norms governing introductions: in Spain, kissing on both cheeks is common while in other countries it is frowned upon! Check out what is permitted BEFORE the event.
While it often common for some people to feel inhibited in certain contexts and many may find it difficult to initiate communication with unknown people, it is important to remember that the other participants are there for the same reasons that they are. This means that there are certain shared interests for everyone present which provide a real and valid reason for someone to start the communication. So, why don’t you take the first step?
In addition, it is generally recognized that an extended network can be of great benefit to all its’ members by providing a great source of information for those who need it!
If the first time is difficult, the second time will be much easier and the third time even easier and from then on you should have absolutely NO problems. Remember: Practice Makes Perfect!
(c) Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., madrid, Spain, January, 2014.