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Working a Room, by Cathy Bolger, PhD

I often work with managers who would rather stay home and match their socks than go to an event where they are expected to socialize. However, having confidence and know-how to meet and socialize with people can make a difference in your professional advancement and personal development. You will build relationships which may help you get things done, influence others, and help your career. The good news is, it is a skill that can be learned and improved!

So where do you start? Have lines and questions prepared ahead of time. Plan your self-introduction. Be able to begin, join in, and end a lively, interesting conversation. Master the skill of attentive listening and the art of asking questions. If appropriate, exchange business cards.

If you are meeting a new person, make sure you have a self-introduction. "Hi, I'm____________ from marketing." Usually the other person will then introduce him or herself. Another way to begin a conversation is to start with a compliment. For instance, "that tie really looks great with that shirt." Sometimes a comment such as "gosh itís hot in here" can start a conversation.

Your opening should include a smile and a confident handshake. Recall Mae West's words, "It's not what I say, but how I look when I say it." In other words, communication is over 80% non-verbal. Communication experts believe that our first impression of others are formed in the first 30 seconds to two minutes. During this time, we judge nonverbals such as facial expressions, posture and tone of voice.

According to the authors of the book, Contact, The First Four Minutes, people are most aware of a few key factors in those first few minutes, specifically, confidence and caring. A certain degree of self-confidence is a foundation for any encounter. Give a firm handshake and look the other person in the eye. Showing a person that you are listening with total attention is a key indication that you care.

One of the best ways to continue a conversation is to ask questions and then listen. Have three questions prepared ahead of time. For instance, depending on the person's interest, you might ask their opinion of a recent sporting event or the trends in the stock market.

Some self-disclosure can also help keep the conversation going. For instance, volunteering that you are interested in a sport or a certain topic can lead the other person to ask questions or volunteer information. For instance, when talking about exercising, I have volunteered that I have started taking a spinning, sometimes called indoor cycling, class. This often leads to questions about where I take the class, or how the class is conducted. As the conversation continues, there will be more chances to find things in common.

Have at least three pieces of information that you can volunteer. For instance, sports or the weather are generally safe topics to introduce. You can usually pick up interesting information in the newspaper. Read the business section and the sports page. Stay up on current events.

Remember to circulate. When it is time to exit a conversation, smile and say, "It's been nice talking to you, I am going to check in with my ride home (or whatever)." Of course, don't sit or stand with people you know for long. It is a good idea to attend with a friend, but separate once you get to the event.

While you are at an event use good manners which are a combination of common sense and kindness. For instance, when you listen, listen attentively. Don't keep looking around to see who else is in the room. Don't use questionable humor or try to dominate the conversation. Learn to read your impact on others and adjust your behavior accordingly. Other more obvious "do nots" include don't drink too much, don't talk or laugh too loud and don't wear inappropriate clothing.

The key points are listed below:

  • Don't stand around with people you know.
  • Plan your self-introduction ahead of time.
  • Give a firm, confident handshake accompanied by eye contact and a smile.
  • Ask the other person questions.
  • Listen attentively.
  • Have at least three things ready to contribute to a conversation.
  • Offer appropriate self-disclosure.
Working a room gets easier with practice. You will be reaching out to people, helping them feel comfortable. You will enjoy a richer life, personally and professionally, which comes from connecting with other people.

Browse Amazon Books Roane, Susan. How to Work a Room.
Roane, Susan. What Do I Say Next?
Zunin and Zunin, Contact: The First Four Minutes

Cathy Bolger, PhD, is a San Diego-based executive coach. She often finds that improving social and interpersonal skills are goals of her coachees.

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