Telling the truth about SME life today

How to work the room – again

There are many articles out there on how to grow your business via face-to-face and online networking. But there aren’t many articles that go into the nitty-gritty of how you “work a room” at a face-to-face networking event.

Let’s face it, face-to-face networking can be very daunting. There are many simple ways that you can achieve more with your networking time. Here are my top tips:

1. Do your homework in advance

Ask your host for a guest list in advance. Identify three to six people that you want to have a conversation with. Do some research on the contacts you want to meet – what line of business are they in” What may be the particular business or personal challenges that they may be facing?

On the day before you go to the networking event, have a quick look at some online news websites, and relevant trade journals, and formulate an opinion on some of the top stories.

2. Have the right kit with you

By this, I mean have a personalised badge already made up with your logo. There is no excuse not to, as a personalised badge will only set you back under a tenner.

Make sure you have lots of business cards with you. So you’re never left without a business card to hand out, keep a store of business cards in your wallet and in the glove pocket of your car.

Carry a small notepad and pen with you – no larger than the size of a cigarette packet. You can then use this to jot down things that you have agreed to do for people you’ve met.

When you get back from the event, make sure you transfer all your new business cards into a business card organiser. There is nothing worse than scrabbling around looking for a business card of someone you met six months ago.

3. Have your elevator pitch worked out

When you meet someone for the first time, they’re going to inevitably ask you what you do. Have a 30-second paragraph worked out in advance which tells people what value you bring to your customers and clients, and what your target market is. At many networking events you may be required to do a 60-second spot or a five minute spot. Expand your 30-second paragraph into a 60-second and five minute talk too.

To make your time in the limelight more memorable for the people you’re talking to, ask them a question which will help to connect what you do with something they may need. For example, I use “who thinks their business has the potential to grow quicker and faster?” or “who needs to get more productivity out of their employees?”.

4. Think about your positioning

Make sure you’re positioned so that you are facing the door (or early in the event, facing the table where people collect their badges). That way you can see who is arriving without having to look away from the person you’re talking to. In the five minutes before you sit down for a meal, go into a seminar, etc., aim to be talking to one of your targets for the evening. That way, you’ll end up building rapport with them through the “feature” of the event.

5. Finding a person to talk to

We’ve all been there: you arrive at an event and everyone seems to be talking and you feel like billy-no-mates. Position yourself near to the drinks table, buffet or toilet – people will walk past you, and take the opportunity to introduce yourself. After all, everyone at a networking event is there to meet new people.

If you see someone standing on their own, make eye contact with them and smile at them. 99 per cent of the time, they’ll be really glad to be rescued and will welcome a conversation with you.

If everyone seems to be standing or sitting around in groups, then look for groups of people who are standing in an open formation, i.e. group members who are standing looking into the room. Approach the group, and ask permission to join them.

6. Starting a conversation

An exceptionally common fear is not knowing what to say to someone you’ve just met. There are some really easy openers to a conversation:

“Hello, I’m…”


“How’s your day been?”

“How was your journey here today?”

“What have you got planned for the rest of the day?”

“Can I get you a drink?”

“Do you know many people here today?”

“What do you do?”

“What does your company do?”

7. Keeping a conversation going

Always turn up to a networking event as yourself. If you try and be someone that you’re not, you will come across as shallow and insincere. Normally people love to talk about their business – so aim to get someone talking about their company, and listen to what they are saying – then find ways of personally complimenting them on that they have achieved

8. Introduce other people as if they are very special or important

If someone asks to join your group, do take the time to introduce everyone in the group. When you are introducing a person, give out a little nugget about them, e.g. “Alan is great at opening doors into potential clients.”

9. Find a reason to stay in touch

Now, Mr Smith from Fantastic Widgets may not be your target client, but he may know someone that is. If you want to stay in touch, then ask for their business card. But it is even more powerful if you find a reason for you to stay in touch. For example, “have you met so-and-so” – I’ll send you their details”, “I was reading a great article – I will send you a copy”.

10. Do ask for permission to circulate

It’s very easy to get stuck talking with one person at a networking event. Look out for signs from the person you are talking to that they’re looking to end the conversation – an easy giveaway is that their eyes will start to wander around the room. This is your cue to wrap up the conversation.

However, if you are left with a cling-on, then take the opportunity to introduce them to someone else and politely move on to a new conversation.

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.

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