Working the room syndrome

It’s a busy room, you’re lurking near the walls. You’ve made an effort at this networking event, and you have spoken to one new person. Unfortunately, he had the charisma of a cereal packet and tried to give you a detailed overview of his ‘game-changing business idea’ which sounded a lot like all the other game changing business ideas you’ve heard this year.

And then – the person you really wanted to meet is talking to you, gliding across the room as if walking on water, surrounded by a golden halo of loveliness, this is the future boss/business contact/guru/associate you’ve always wanted to have some ‘face time’ with.
You gather your courage. You strike up a conversation. And you screw it up.
You’re nervous, so you talk too much, and too fast. He asks you ‘what do you do?’ and you suddenly lose the ability to speak. You almost forget your own name, and in your haste to impress, you hear yourself saying the weirdest, blandest most boring things, like:
“Do you like the asparagus? I quite like asparagus, I mean I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it either – oh, I don’t want to offend anyone who does like asparagus…”
And inside you’re screaming at yourself – “Shut up, you can see the glazed eyes. Stop talking nonsense. You’ve ruined it. You’re no good at networking. No, scratch that. You’re no good”.
We’ve all done it – me too. The most successful, intelligent, urbane people can become gibbering witless wrecks in the face of ‘working the room syndrome’. There’s something about the artificial, stilted nature of networking events that does this to us. And the trouble is, it becomes a vicious circle, leading lots of people to think “I hate networking”.
Why does this happen? Well, there are probably lots of reasons but I think one certain is that we hear advice over and over again as children – ‘Don’t talk to strangers!’ And then guess what happens? We land a job, get given a fistful of business cards and told ‘go and talk to strangers!’
What can you do about it? In the next few posts I’ll look at several techniques to help, including how to create a great elevator pitch, how to remember names and knowing the kinds of things people love to talk about so that conversations flow easily. I’ll also look at the importance of strategy and goals, since so much ‘working the room syndrome’ comes from a lack of focus about what the outcome should be.
Here’s the overall tip, though. Just like the good ol’ scouts used to say: “Be prepared”. It’s a rare person who can just walk into a room full of strangers, have delightful conversations, pick up a few useful contacts and breeze on out.
Every – no exceptions – every successful networker that I know has spent a lot of time preparing,  they’ve built their skills and they’ve grabbed whatever feedback they can.
So- first question. How do you prepare at the moment for networking events? Do you really prepare at all or do you just grab some business cards and hope that your hair’s looking good as you fly out of the door?
If you do, then read the next post…

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