What most people don’t know about me is that I’m a closet introvert. Given the choice between sitting in my favorite chair and reading books by myself for 4 hours or pivoting around a cocktail event full of strangers making new friends by the minute, I’d choose the books. Those that know me would hardly believe it because where you will find me 3 or 4 nights a week is arduously working a room somewhere out amongst Boston business elite.
I am shy by nature, but I realized long ago that achieving my dreams and building multi-million dollar empires would require a few necessary skills, the most essential being the art of conversation. If you have big dreams, you will need assistance achieving them. You will need friends, acquaintances, employees, clients, and vendors; you will need people. The only way to keep a plant alive is to water it. The only way to keep a relationship alive is through communication. They never teach you in grade school how to make new friends. I suppose it’s assumed that you will figure it out. If you are like me, you do eventually find a way, even if it’s years later when the universe has plopped you into a room full of strangers bearing cocktails with no life ring in sight.
As the saying goes, your net worth is a byproduct of your network. And so, I’ve made a living by networking with people, many of them strangers at the beginning. I will always be the girl who prefers to be curled up somewhere in my pjs reading a book, but now that I’ve mastered the fine art of working a room, I’m equally comfortable in any room, anywhere, building my empire. Here are my 7 simple strategies for working a room like you own it.
- Be Curious: The most important quality you must possess when entering a room full of people you don’t know is curiosity. Instead of focusing on how many cards you will give out, focus on a room full of totally cool people with diverse backgrounds, amazing stories, and different personalities. I approach people at networking events like I am interviewing them for an article. I ask what they do for work, how they chose their profession, what’s their favorite book, whether they have a family, their biggest obstacles, you name it. One of my favorite books of all time is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie where he points out that if you spend all of your time getting to know everyone else in the room, you will soon find that you become the most interesting of them all.
- Be A Magnet: I love when I walk into a room and people come over to me to start conversations. Therefore, I look for ways to create an ice-breaker for others. The easiest way to do that for me is with shoes. If I’m going to an event where I will not know a soul, I make sure that my sole’s are amazing. In other words, I won’t wear plain, black shoes. No, the best conversation starters are cool shoes, because all you have to do is walk in the room and within minutes a fellow lover of fashion will make her way over to compliment them. I’ve made countless new friends over a stylish pair of Choos. Of course, the fringe benefit of this is that I can calculate the ROI on my best shoes.
- Confidence Matters: Head up, shoulders back, and have some swagger, please! Walk around like you are someone people should want to know. This means that you cannot stow away in a corner with a cocktail while you hide from the masses. The only thing worse than going to a networking event that you don’t want to be at is to actually go and not get anything out of it. If you are in the room, have the confidence to walk around and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m Stacey, what brings you to the event?” And the conversation is off and running.
- Have a Game Plan: Rarely do I ever enter a networking event totally oblivious as to who will be there. If it’s a larger event, I might call and ask for the guestlist in advance or I’ll visit the social media page of the event to see who’s attending. With just 10 minutes of quick research you can determine in advance of the event who you want to meet and how you are going to do it. When you introduce yourself to someone and you’ve already researched them, you become a much more interesting networking companion. Do some due diligence and plan your networking strategy prior to entrance.
- Work the Check-In: If you extraordinarily shy, call the host of the networking event prior to and ask if you can work the check-in table. This gives you a leg up because now you get to meet people as they come in. Make sure to memorize 3-5 of the guest names so that when check-in duty is over you are off and running to make some deeper relationships. You can then go re-introduce yourself to the ones you remember and start a fresh conversation.
- Be Present: When having conversations with anyone, be present. Listen. Hear what is being said. Keep your eyes focused on the other party. I hate when I’m having a conversation with someone and I have to remind the other party what I do three times or when I catch them looking behind my back for someone more interesting to talk to. Therefore, no matter who I am speaking with, no matter how interested I am in the subject matter we are talking about, the person I am with at that moment is the most important person in the world to me.
- Introduce: If you did own the room, you’d know everyone in it, and you would introduce them to one another. If you want to own any room, you need to start making connections by having conversations. Then, as you meet new people, do not be shy about introducing people you just met to one another. When you find people with similar lifestyle interests, in similar businesses, or even two really cool people you think would like to know one another, make the introduction. The fastest way to expand your own network is to expand everyone elses.
Just like most things in life, networking takes practice and it gets easier over time. Please remember this, most of the people there are just like you. They too are uncomfortable in the element and the easiest way to make them more comfortable is to walk up and start a conversation.