SIX WAYS TO WORK A ROOM LIKE A PR PRO
November 09, 2018
Being a keen digital connector has its advantages—like meeting a business hero we might never have the opportunity to connect with in person, or finding the common ground to create online friendships with people halfway around the world. But sometimes, no matter how many virtual espresso meetings I enjoy, there’s simply no substitute for networking face-to-face.
No, not everyone who appears at ease in a room full of people is an extrovert or a public relations professional. We have to work at it! I sometimes worry I’ll run short on things to say and I struggle with knowing what to do with my hands. While it’s okay to admit I’m more comfortable working at my desk, firing off a tweet, or introducing myself through a LinkedIn message, in business and in life, getting out in public to meet and mingle with clients and colleagues is a must.
If attending an in-person event is on your professional or personal horizon, here are six tips to feel confident and at ease working a room.
- Look the part. Wear comfortable, professional clothing that celebrates your best features without flaunting them. Choose moveable, breathable fabric—nothing tight or constricting. Practice sitting, standing, and moving in your outfit. If it’s a costumed event like the #WickedSpookyParty I attended in October, dress up and have fun with it! When I wear clothing I’m proud of, my posture is straighter and my smile is brighter. My body language says confidence. Don’t choose a daylong event or important awards ceremony to test-run a new pair of heels or experiment with a new style of suit.
- Hold a drink. If you’re prone to fidgeting in stressful or uncomfortable situations, a beverage will keep your hands occupied. Sip something non-alcoholic containing plenty of water; try a splash of juice in water or club soda to stay both hydrated and in control. Remember to leave your right hand free and dry for handshakes and accepting business cards. Not sipping? Fold your hands in front of your body or let them dangle naturally at your sides. Don’t cross your arms or hold your hands behind your back.
- Say my name, say my name. When someone begins a conversation by announcing “I’m bad with names,” I cringe. From the opening moments, you’re telling the other person they’re not important enough to matter. “Everyone struggles with remembering names," says Jill Spiegel, author of How to Talk to Anyone About Anything. “When we first meet someone we're taking in so much visually and emotionally. They say their name, but it’s up there floating in our heads.” The first time you meet someone, make eye contact, repeat their name out loud, and use a mnemonic device to commit it to memory.
- Know your elevator speech. Maybe you’re writing a book, launching a new product, expanding your services, or announcing a recent hire. Congratulations! However, others can’t celebrate your good news if you don’t tell them about it in an engaging way. Make it memorable, keep it brief, and give me a reason to care. In 20-30 seconds, be able to state your name, title, organization, what your job is, and why it’s important. People who want to know more will ask follow-up questions. Don’t forget to solidify your new contact with a business card and an offer to connect on LinkedIn and Twitter.
- When you’re smilin’. Sing it with me: “…the whole world smiles with you.” It seems simple, but it’s hard to remember to smile when you’re stressed about who you’re meeting and what you’re saying. But there’s good reason to show some teeth! Researchers at the University of Kansas say smiling helps reduce the body’s response to stress in tense situations; another study linked smiling to lower blood pressure, while yet another says smiling leads to longevity. Not only does smiling reduce your stress during the event and offer lifelong health benefits, your positive attitude will be infectious to others. When you’re happy, people want to be around you and listen to what you have to say.
- Recharge and follow up. You’ve conversed, you’ve connected, you’ve collected business cards and the event has come to a close. Post-networking, I like to grab dinner with one or a handful of close friends or colleagues. For a little while, don’t talk about the event or what you learned. Keep your own counsel, then debrief later or the next day when you’ve had a chance to think through your impressions. Other post-event stress relievers include exercise or treating yourself to a pedicure or massage. Once you’ve had time to review the event, consider your most productive conversations and dash off a few thank-you notes. Like face-to-face networking, good manners and handwritten messages never go out of vogue.
Good things happen when we “get uncomfortable and grow,” says Women in High Gear author Anne Deeter Gallaher. Events and meet-ups can be intimidating, even to those of us who are seasoned networkers, but with the right preparation, a pinch of confidence, and willingness to engage, you’ll be on your way to a lifetime of making valuable, in-person connections.
What about you? What are your tips for beating networking nerves?