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How to Work a Room Like an Extrovert (Even if You’re Shy)

Posted on by Mac Prichard

How to Work a  Room Like an Extrovert (Even if You’re Shy)

My colleagues at “Mac’s List” and I share a singular interest: we enjoy going to receptions, association lunches and other public events and talking to strangers, lots and lots of them.

The two of us recognize that many of our colleagues have a different feeling about meeting and chatting up new people. But to succeed in today’s job market, you need to stay in touch with your current contacts and add new ones through regular networking.

If the idea of walking into a professional event fills you with fear, here are 10 tips for how to work a room like an extrovert no matter what the results of your Meyers Briggs test:

1. Manage Expectations. Begin by knowing what you want. You don’t have to walk away with a job offer for an event to be a success. Focus on building and maintaining relationships.

2. Set Goals. Have a specific goal such as meeting new people and reconnecting with current contacts and former colleagues. Typically, I talk to three to five new people and chat with contacts I don’t see often.

3. Ditch Officemates. It’s tempting to stick to coworkers you see every day. Instead, strike out on your own. Remember: You’re there to grow your network. 

4. Approach Others. See someone standing alone? They will be secretly relieved when you walk up, introduce yourself, and start a conversation.

Not sure about joining a small group? Look for friendly body language and casual conversation, good signals they are open to talking with others.

5. Have an Introduction. A simple hello, an exchange of names and handshakes, and a question about how someone came to be at the event are enough to break the ice.

6. Keep the Conversation Going. Open-ended questions work best. Ask about someone’s involvement in the sponsoring organization, connection to the host, or how far they’ve traveled.

7. Be a Host. Make introductions and invite others to join a group. People will be grateful and remember your kindness.

8. Do Good Turns for Others. Does a conversation reveal common interests and make your think of websites, articles, or other helpful material? Offer to pass along this information. This allows you to be a resource after you return to the office and gives a legitimate reason to exchange business cards.

9. Meet on LinkedIn. Have a good conversation with someone? Send a LinkedIn invitation in order to remain connected. Avoid the standard text and write a personal note.

10. Stay Connected. Consider asking for – or giving – an informational interview. This could be a formal meeting in an office, a quick cup of coffee, or a lunch. If you’re attending a regular lunch or event sponsored by a professional group, look for people you’ve met before.

Need more ideas about how to work a room? Last October Elizabeth Azevedo offered five tips for a networking event after attending an office warming party at Mambo Media’s new Pearl District loft space. And here are four ideas for making the most of a professional conference that I offered after presenting at a gathering of health care professionals in Memphis in September.

How do you approach networking events? Tell us your ideas and stories in the comments section below.

Image used under Creative Commons from Flickr user pjf@cpan

Mac Prichard
Mac Prichard publishes Mac's List and owns and operates Prichard Communications, a public relations agency that serves non-profits, public agencies, and foundations across the United States. He also blogs regularly about job-hunting in Portland.
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  • Susan RoAne

    As the author of the classic How To Work a Room, there are many suggestions and reminders that help the shy and not -so -shy at any event. One of the most important is about gracious exits. Observe peoples’ behaviors and read their level of interest. If they seem impatient during converssation, excuse yourself with a smile and a handshake; interrupt yourself. Walk 3/4 of the across the room to another person or group.

    • R

      I really agree with this; reading body language is key. As an introvert, I cringe when I see the “approach someone standing alone” suggestion. Sometimes someone standing alone is taking a break from interaction with others to recharge, or is getting ready to leave. I’m not saying you should not approach people, just keep a close eye on their behavior.

      • Mac Prichard

        Definitely agree with your reply to Susan’s comment: it’s important to understand people’s body language and pick up on other social cues before approaching them. Timing matters, too. People are more receptive to conversation — and less likely to be headed out the door or taking a break — at the start or midway through an event.

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  • Mac Prichard

    A great tip, Susan, and I’m honored to have you share your wisdom. Another suggestion I have for exits: If I’ve had a good conversation with someone I will usually stop and give a brief goodbye on my way out oft the room. This gives me an opportunity to restate that I will follow through on a task if I’ve committed to doing something like emailing an article or website URL.

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