Maybe you’re looking for your next job. Or perhaps you just want to stay on top of your career. Whatever your goal, it helps to know how to work a room at professional networking events.
If the idea of walking into a room full of strangers and striking up a conversation fills you with terror, you’re not alone! This is a common fear for many jobseekers, and it keeps them from making vital professional connections.
This week’s guest, Susan RoAne, is a expert on working a room at networking events. Susan’s best-selling book, How to Work a Room, teaches you everything you need to know to become an expert networker.
This Week’s Guest
Named by Forbes.com as one of the networking gurus of 2015, Susan RoAne is an in-demand international keynote speaker, who, for the last 3 decades, has shared her message of connection and communication with audiences worldwide. She is the author of the classic bestseller,How to Work a Room, which has sold more than 1.2 million copies in 13 countries. She’s also the author of several other well-received books.
Resources from this Episode
- Check out Susan’s books “How to Work a Room, 25th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections–In Person and Online” and “What Do I Say Next?: Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success”
- Networking for Introverts
- The Nuances of Business Networking
- How to Work a Room
- Land Your Dream Job in Portland (and Beyond)
This is Find Your Dream Job. The podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-hosts, Ben Forstag, our managing director, and Jenna Forstrom, our community manager.
Maybe you’re looking for your next job or perhaps you want to stay on top of your career. Whatever your goal, you need to go to events. It’s one of the best ways to meet others in your field. Does the idea of walking to a room with strangers and striking up a conversation with somebody you don’t know fill you with horror? Today’s show is for you.
This weekend on Find Your Dream Job, we’re talking about how to work a room. Ben has a Harvard Business Review article with networking tips for introverts. I talk to this week’s guest expert, Susan RoAne, a networking maven and author of the classic “How to Work a Room.” Jenna answers a question from a listener about how you can help family and friends who were doing a job search.
Our show is brought to you by our book, Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond. To learn more about the updated edition that we published on February 1st, visit MacsList.org/book.
Mac, this week, we’re talking about networking, which is a topic that frankly terrifies many, many people. What does the book teach you about networking?
It is a skill that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Readers of the book will find some useful tools. I think the biggest one is a checklist of 15 action tips for working a room like a pro. Those ideas will help you address your fears. It will also produce the results that you want. Making connections that matter, so you can get the job that you want.
Okay. Jenna, Ben, I’m curious. Have either one of you ever had coaching from someone about how to work a room at a conference or other professional event?
I have not, but I used to organize events for the non-profits I worked at. I think approaching events from the organizer perspective helps you learn how to network because networking becomes a function of customer service. Going out there and making sure the attendees of the event feel comfortable and welcomed and happy and all their needs are met. It was part of my job to go out there and engage people. I think that’s how I figured out what works and what doesn’t work in a networking function.
How about you, Jenna?
I haven’t gotten any professional training in networking, but I tend to be an extrovert. I can move myself out there pretty easily. The 2 pieces of advice that I’ve always held to comes from, one, my mom, who said, don’t ever get drunk at a networking event. Another one was from a co-worker of mine, who, every time he got a business card, he would write himself a note on the back of it like, “Met with so and so from company X, discussed project Y.” After a conference, 3 or 4 days later, you’re going through all your business cards, you can follow up with very pointed responses to build relationships. I’ve just always loved that idea. I love business cards that don’t have anything on the back, one-sided business cards, so I can write myself notes, because of that tip.
That’s a great tactic. I began to learn how to work a room when I went to graduate school. There were a lot of social events in my program. Because it was a mid-career program, there were people there from different periods of their careers. It was like a master class in how to do that because there were so many people not only from Washington DC, but from overseas, who were successful networkers. It was a great experience.
Now, let’s turn to Ben, who, every week, is out there looking for resources for you, our listeners. Ben, what have you found for us this week?
Today, I’ve got a blog post that might resonate with a lot of our listeners. It’s called Networking for Introverts. It’s from the Harvard Business Review blog, HBR.org. This is written by Dorie Clark, who’s a professor at Duke University.
I know lots of blogs have talked about networking for introverts, including Mac’s List. We have a couple of posts on that. I really like this one because it broke down the issue into some strategic tips that you could take to really work around that personality if you are an introvert.
I’m just going to quickly share the 4 tips she offers. As always, she goes into much more depth than I’m going to here. I suggest you read it afterwards. Her 4 tips are:
1. Create your own events. I think, a lot of times, when people think about networking, they think about the big, loud networking event after work with 200 people at it mixing around at an open bar. That doesn’t need to be the case. If you’re an introvert and you work better in small groups, you can create your own small groups and connect with people that way.
There’s actually a local organization here in Portland, who, one of the events they do each month, they invite 10 of their members, only 10, to come and sit down in a coffee shop. They just sit in a circle and network that way. It’s a real small, intimate setting, but it work great for introverts. Have you ever done anything like this, Mac?
I haven’t. At our sister company though, Prichard Communications, 4 times a year, we put together a dinner for 10 people. We call it The Portland Ten. We bring together social change makers who gather to exchange information and ideas. That’s our only agenda, because we find that when great people who are doing great things get together, often, connections and relationships start and endure long after the dinner’s over.
I imagine there’s no loud music and banging bass drum or anything like that at those events.
There is no loud music in the background. We actually have a dinner at a small spot here in Portland. The focus is on the conversation.
Again, that might be an example of a networking event, where an introvert might feel more comfortable. Dorie suggests other things like organizing game nights, for example, or dinner events or meetups over coffee.
Her second tip is understanding when you’re at your best. I’m a morning person, for example. Jenna, are you a morning person or afternoon person or evening?
Definitely not a morning person. I’m more of an afternoon person.
Acknowledging that you’ve got peak energy in the morning versus the evening, try to line up your networking events around that peak energy time, so that you’re not really dragging yourself there.
Her third tip is rate the likelihood for connecting at an event. Not all networking events are created equal. Some have a greater likelihood of building good, professional relationships than others. If you’ve got a finite bandwidth for networking, make sure that you’re investing that bandwidth in places where it matters.
Her fourth part, I think this is really important, is calibrating your schedule. If networking is something that drains you at the end of the day, don’t schedule multiple networking events for multiple days in a row. Give yourself a couple of days off to step back, relax, build up your energy again before you go out and do more networking.
I really like this because it was actionable tips for the introvert. I suggest you check it out. Again, this is on the Harvard Business Review blog. I will include a link to the blog. Post itself in the show notes.
Thank you, Ben. If you have an idea for Ben, please write him directly. His email address is Ben@macslist.org. We may use your suggestion on a future show.
It’s time to hear from you, our listeners. Jenna, what do you have in the mail bag this week?
This week’s question is how can I support my friend during their job hunt? I think this is a really great question for our listeners that may be already in a career that they really like, and they’re watching their friends go through some struggles in their own careers.
The tips I have are offer to be an accountability buddy. Someone that … You call them at Friday afternoon and say, “Hey, where are the 5 places you applied?” or “Who did you meet with to get coffee?” Help them brainstorm job opportunities. Keeping them in the loop and recommending local resources.
Offering to be a sounding board for their frustrations or their situations. I think everyone likes a friend that they can call and complain about or vent to, when something silly happens at an interview or “I got totally turned off by this question” or “I got lost on the way there and showed up 20 minutes late. I feel like an idiot.” Just having someone hear that and remind you of who you are, especially if it’s someone you have a really strong relationship with like your best friend, who can speak words of encouragement back into you after you feel completely deflated.
Another opportunity is to meet in person. Do something cheap, because they’re probably [inaudible 08:31] about finances. Go for a walk in the park. Get them out of their house and force them to put on clothes and get out there.
Ben, do you have any tips?
I think friends definitely play an important role in a job search. I think people tend to forget. When they think networks, they think, “The people I know professionally,” but your friends and your family are probably the best network you have. These are people who know you, who trust you, who love you, who will do just about anything for you.
Opening yourself up to the job seeker and learning about what they’re looking for. Maybe you have connections you can share with your friend. “You should do your talk to Jim over at Company X or Sally over at Company Y.” Providing that networking and that connection there is a really important thing you could do for your friend.
It’s just so important to tell people that you’re looking for work. Don’t be ashamed of it. Be open about it. It’s good to have an accountability buddy, but to Ben’s point, the more you tell people you’re looking, the more success you’ll likely have. It’s not something you have to do alone. I think having buddies and friends who can support you along the way and then returning that favor when you’re working or you’re helping somebody else who might also be out of work is going to help you both.
Good tips, guys. Thank you.
If you have a question for us, please email Jenna. Her address is Jenna@macslist.org.
These segments are sponsored by the 2016 edition of Land Your Dream Job in Portland and Beyond. We’ve made our book even better. We’ve added new content. Now, we’re offering it in a format you told us you wanted. You can read our book for the first time in paperback or download it onto your Kindle, Nook, or iPad. Whatever the format, our goal’s the same. We want to give you the tools and tips you need to get the job and the career you want. For more information, visit www.MacsList.org/book.
Now, let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Susan RoAne, who joins us from San Francisco. Named by Forbes.com as one of the networking gurus of 2015, Susan RoAne is an in-demand international keynote speaker, who, for the last 3 decades, has shared her message of connection and communication with audiences worldwide. She is the author of the classic bestseller, How to Work a Room, which has sold more than 1.2 million copies in 13 countries. She’s also the author of several other well-received books. Susan, thanks for joining us.
It’s such a treat to have you here. I know the first question by any of our listeners will have is … Since you wrote your book … I know the silver edition is out this year. The options for staying in touch, particularly online, have changed a lot. Why is it still important to actually get together in person to mingle? Why does that matter?
First of all, we are going to be doing that, because even if you think all your business is going to be online between Twitter and Facebook and you name it, you’re still going to be invited to your cousin’s wedding. No matter what, we do have to be face-to-face.
When I first wrote How to Work a Room, there was a piece of research from this professor emeritus in Sociology at Harvard. It has so come true. He said, “In the year 2000, the people will succeed.” He said, “Because everyone will be technical.” We all are. He said, “We’ll be the people who can talk to other people.” He didn’t say text other people. He didn’t say tweeted other people, but that ability to communicate allows you to connect, Mac, in a way that online can help, but it can’t replace.
There are different styles of communication. I know, Susan, you draw distinction between networking and working a room. Tell us more about that difference and why it matters.
It makes the back of my neck curl when I hear everyone saying, “I have to go network an event.” I go, “Really? I’m the old English teacher. You’re actually flunking. That’s not the right way to use the word.” Because they’re 2 different skills. You work a room. You mingle. You socialize. You connect. You circulate. Networking’s a different skill. I can prove it, because How to Work a Room, one book, Secrets of Savvy Networking, another book, no repetition. I can prove it in even another way.
I think all our listeners will understand this. There are some people, honestly, Mac, who are fabulous networkers. They tell you they’re going to send you something. They send it when they said they’d do it. They introduce you to people. They give you a lead. They make recommendations. They follow up. They are consistent. They are people who are in touch, but the thought of walking into a room full of people they don’t know, for a business or social event, could still be daunting.
On the other hand, there are people … We see them at events and parties and conferences. I call them the Hail Well-Met and Hardy Boys and Girls, and they’re having a great time, but they have no follow-up. They are not interested in anything further. Really, they’re horrible networkers, but they’re great at working a room.
What I say to people is you want to have both skills. You want to be able to walk into any room, feel comfortable, meet people, have a good time, make connections, have great conversations, and then you also have to follow up. Because by the way, if you collect all these business cards and they go to the cleaners in your pockets, you’re seriously a one-night stand.
How can people get better at networking, Susan, if they’re not good at it?
First of all, let me tell you why we’re not. This will take off a lot of our listeners and make them feel better. The research showed, when I first wrote the book, 80% of us self-identified as shy here in the U.S.A. By the time we came out with the third update, it jumped to 93% because of technology.
If you feel uncomfortable, please know that 9 out of 10 or 8 out of 10 people in that room feels even more uncomfortable than you. You’re not alone. You’re really among the majority. How we can get better, well, certainly listening and reading the show notes for this will give you a lot of tips and ideas, granted my book will.
Here’s the other thing. When you get an invitation, whether it’s an e-vite and it’s online or it’s in the mail, look at your calendar. Check the date. RSVP. Can I give you the magic that makes it all work? Show up. Because there are a lot of people who will RSVP and then not show up. What they’re doing in terms of not the mingling but the networking part is they’re establishing a bad reputation. Everyone talks about, “I want to manage my online reputation.” [inaudible 15:32]. Really? Try acting properly in the face-to-face space. If you’ve RSVP, show up. Before you go, here’s a few things that you can do. This is from my book. I do this in all my presentations.
First of all, honestly, Mac, there is no excuse for walking into a room and not knowing anything. We are in the age of … We can Google people. We can go to a website to see who’s going to be there, who won the awards, who’s blogging on the site. We can go to LinkedIn and say, “Oh my God. You went to my university,” granted, in different centuries, but we have a conversation we can have. We have so many resources at our hand that taking that 5 minutes before you leave for a convention, a party, a meeting, anything, a baseball game, you should be prepared with information with potential conversation. That’s number one.
Second thing I want everyone to do before you go anywhere, this is the former teacher here talking, have your own self-introduction ready. Practice and prepare, because we want to be great if Mac introduced you every time you walked in a room, but really, you know what, Mac, we’re all on our own. Before you go anywhere, think of who’s going to be there, what you have in common with them, and how will you introduce yourself vis-à-vis that event.
The first trait of a self-introduction, which by the way, is not an upchucking of an elevator speech, which shouldn’t even be used in an elevator. It is 7 to 9 seconds, not 15 or 30. It’s a pleasantry. It is linked to the event you go to. You’re not going to introduce yourself the same way … I’m not going to introduce myself the same way when I go to my National Speakers Association convention, as when I spoke at the law school, UC Berkeley’s law school. They’re different events. You customize that self-introduction. Why? Because it gives people in that room a context for your presence. That helps them talk to you.
The third trait is don’t give your title. Give the benefit of what you do. When you do that, you allow that other person to ask the first question. They feel they started the conversation, then you respond. You’re actually in an exchange.
Those are my 3 tips.
Susan, you made that introduction. A lot of people, Susan, they struggle with the small talk and icebreakers. What are your suggestions about good icebreakers for a conversation at events like this?
I’m really glad you mentioned small talk because that’s what the good icebreakers are. A lot of people unfortunately denigrate small talk. “I don’t make good small talk. I don’t want to talk about these things. I hate the weather. I hate sports. I hate movies. I hate food.” Stop it. It’s not about you. The good icebreakers are the things that I call the casual conversation, the off the cuff, the impromptu.
You walk into a room. “I don’t know about you, but I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge.” That’s a conversation. I walk into them and first thing I’m going to say is, “Oh my goodness. We just flew across the bridge. There was no traffic. Did you encounter traffic?” or “I can’t believe I was on the bridge an hour.” Do you notice what I did? I shared where I was coming from, shared information about the traffic.
People do talk about traffic. People actually talk about parking. You may think it’s insignificant. Try sitting in traffic an hour. People relate to the things they have in common. Where your icebreakers are, when you go to any event, meeting, conference, the venue. You’re in the same room.
I’m going to share something that was said to me when I was on an NPR radio show. A gentleman called in. He said, “We live on the farm. When we were growing up, every time we went to a dance in town, we had a saying, “The roof is the introduction.””
When you are in the same room with someone, you already have something in common. They’re there for at least a similar reason to you. Maybe you’re standing in front of a buffet table. You don’t put your hand out and say, “Hi, I’m Susan RoAne. So glad to meet you. You have a cream puff in your hand and I just squashed it. So sorry.” What you do is you sometimes do the off the cuff. “I see that you have the crudités. Are they great? Tell me how the dip is.” Something that people can respond to easily. This is not when you come in with your agenda.
Susan, we’ve got to start wrapping up. I did want to ask you. Just to step back, talk about the benefits of personal interaction like this and how networks can help our listeners’ careers and grow their businesses or organizations or non-profits, just quickly. Because you’ve taken us through this process of going to the room, finding ways to put people at ease, connect with others. In the end, how is this going to help someone find a job or grow their career or their non-profit or their business?
It’s all about relationships. It’s the who you know, who you’ve met, who they know. It’s the building of relationships is what’s going to build your business and your career. Anyone who’s been through a career change or a layoff knows that when you have a network of people in your field and outside of your field, that you have more sources and resources and probably more friends. There is no question.
Being part of this business community, if you can pick up a phone or send an email and get a response, because someone knows you and have met you and have had an interaction with you, that is gold. It’s money in the bank. By the same token, Mac, that means you have to be someone that helps the other people that contact you.
To me, having online relationships is fabulous, but the face-to-face adds a dimension that deepens the relationship and deepens the connection. Whenever you can have a cup of coffee, even if you have to share it online on Skype because it’s geographically not possible, that’s going to be better for you and to grow your business, because you never know who people know, who people might recommend, who people might share as a source, a client. To me, it’s everything. Anyone that thinks differently, well, what can I say? You’re wrong.
I think that’s a good spot to stop, Susan. People can find out more about you and your work at www.SusanRoAne.com, as well as on Twitter. We’ll be sure to include links to both your website and your Twitter account in the show notes that go out to our listeners and appear on our blog. Susan, thank you again for joining us.
Thank you. It’s been fun.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. Jenna, Ben, I’m curious. What are your thoughts after listening to Susan?
I liked her point about not shying away from small talk because small talk is where conversation start. It reminded me of an event I went to 3 or 4 weeks ago. It was a breakfast event. This is the only event I’ve ever been to where they had an official bacon sponsor.
You obviously didn’t grow up in Iowa.
I did not grow up in Iowa. The bacon itself was sponsored by a company. I thought it was a great marketing ploy, but also it was a great conversation starter because I heard, probably at 3 or 4 different tables, people talking about the bacon and the bacon sponsor.
That little chitchat, at least, in my case, it grew into an ongoing conversation we had about other topics. I saw those people later in the day, and we came back and talked about more things. Small talk is a good foundation to build bigger talk from.
How about you, Jenna?
Very similar. I liked her point that icebreakers are not about you. Just to remember that we talk at Night Strike a lot about how to talk to the homeless. I say that my 2 coaching tips are where are you from and how’s your day going. Those are the 2 things that it’s like a softball to someone. You can get to know them. I get really excited when I find out someone’s from Boston or has an East Coast connection. It’s an instant tie to someone.
Or if they’re having a great day or horrible day. What made it great or what made it horrible? Little things like that are just easy ways to build relationships. That makes you more relatable and less on the agenda, which are both things that Susan mentioned.
For me, I think her point about how many people are uncomfortable with events like this and just recognizing that. If you feel that discomfort too, there are a lot of people in the same boat. They’re grateful when you offer up some small talk or ask those questions that you suggest, Jenna, because it gives everybody a chance to feel at ease. That comfort is a great foundation to build a relationship, which in the end is what it’s all about.
Thank you both. Thanks again to our guest expert, Susan. Thank you, our listeners. If you like what you hear on our show, you can help us by leaving a review and rating at iTunes. This helps others discover the show and serve all of you better.
One of the reviews we have received recently is from Brian Kuo, who writes, “For those actively or passively seeking employment, Mac’s List is an invaluable resource. The advice contained within this podcast provides a synced, salient direction in pursuit of your dream job. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or someone just graduating and looking for the correct path to career fulfillment, I highly recommend you check out this podcast. Cheers to Mac and his team.” Thank you, Brian.
Thank you to all the other listeners who have left a review. We hope that you’ll take a moment and leave your own comment and rating. Just go to www.MacsList.org/iTunes. Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next Wednesday with more tools and tips you can use to find your dream job.