How to work a room

Networking can be a stressful experience, so here are four steps that will help ease the experience for you
by Jake Matthews


As online networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter grow, so does the need for an online presence. However, this doesn’t negate the importance of networking.

A survey for the period 2015–2016 by The Adler Group finds that “networking trumps applying directly for a job by a factor of 3:1”. It isn’t just networking that works for getting a job either, it helps with filling a vacant position too. Lou Adler, The Adler Groups’ CEO, says: “Since 85% of critical jobs are filled via networking of some sort, being highly networked is essential for both the jobseekers and for those seeking them.”

Simply put, networking is important – but it can also be daunting. 

In her 1988 book How to work a room, which was revised and updated in 2013, professional networking expert Susan RoAne outlines the four steps for working a room.

1. Preparation Inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who patented the first telephone, is credited with saying: “Before anything else, preparation is key.” The same is true of networking.

Before going to a networking event, ask yourself these questions:

  • How will I introduce myself?
  • What will I talk about? 
  • How should I dress?
  • Who do I want to talk to?
It’s best to prepare a self-introduction that’s no longer than ten seconds. Conversational items can be sourced from anywhere, but try to stay on topic if you’ve been at an event. Use what you both have in common. For example: “What did you think of the keynote speaker?” If you’re unsure of the dress code, ask ahead, and also ask for a list of attendees. Sometimes you won’t be given this information, but its good to ask. 
2. The entrance It can be overwhelming walking into a room filled with total strangers, knowing that you have to strike up conversation. 

First, don’t charge into anything. ‘Scope out’ the area and assess where the food and/or bar is; if there’s seating and where people are congregated. 

Once you’ve done this, greet the hosts and/or event organisers, and ask to be introduced to specific groups or people if you have anyone in mind. 
3. Meet and mingleOnce you have your bearings, speak to people who are either standing alone, and therefore in a similar position to you, or in a pair, meaning they have come to the event together or have just met. 

Introduce yourself with a handshake and a smile, and discuss what you have in common: the event you’re attending. If this doesn’t get the conversation flowing then use your prepared comments. If it starts slowly, don’t worry. The small talk will progress. 

Do you have any tips for working a room? If so, please share them in the commentsAct like a host, introducing and chatting to others, expanding your group and being amiable. 
4. Exit and move on It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t stay in one conversation. You’re working the room, after all. 

To leave, extend your hand for a firm handshake and say how great it was to meet them. Once this has been done, offer your business card and ask for theirs. Then leave, but make sure you go at least a quarter of the room away. Now, it’s on to the rest of the room.

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Published: 22 Dec 2017
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • Career advice
  • career
  • Behaviour

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