10 Tips for Reading a Room the Right Way
Here’s how to turn new names and faces into powerful business connections.
Whether he said it or not, a famous quote attributed to D-Day
planner and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower may help you
shape your networking strategy: “Plans are worthless, but planning
Here’s the point. In the accounting and finance profession, the end
of the calendar year presents unique opportunities for making
connections and building business. Potential clients may be getting
restless with their current advisors and may be open to new ideas.
And, in fairness, your clients might be doing the same. And, there’s
you — there’s something about a fast-approaching new year that
makes us consider where we are in our careers and whether better
opportunities lie elsewhere.
So, how do you successfully blend good business with good fun as
you accept invitations to late-year conferences, holiday mixers, and
gatherings with clients, peers, or prospects? A little planning — from
thinking about the people you want to meet to the way you present
yourself — can go a long way in making meaningful connections.
From the invitations you consider to the way you work the room,
consider these top networking tips from our trusted business
consultants Alison Henderson of Moving Image Consulting LLC and
Jon Lokhorst, CPA of Lokhorst Consulting:
1. Know why you’re going.
If you want your networking time to
be more valuable than a free drink and hors d'oeuvres, really
think about the event, the logistics, the vibe, and who’s likely
to be there. While there’s potential in most professional
gatherings no matter your goal, Henderson and Lokhorst suggest
it makes sense to study the names of the hosts, presenters,
officers, and any other faces involved in the event ahead of time
to fully formulate what you can gain from the event.
2. Reconnaissance is essential — and easy.
Even if you only have
the names from the invitation, make sure you look them up on
their employer websites or review their public profiles on
Google, LinkedIn, and other professional groups. But don’t
“connect” just yet. This is research for when you walk into a
room full of strangers. “Knowing” these people at least gives
you a chance to seek them out to thank them for their work,
and then you’re off and running — appreciation is always a
good conversation starter.
3. Arriving on time is always better.
From the grade school
lunchroom to the corporate ballroom, some things in life always
stay the same: “It’s better to be the person already active with
others in a busy room than the last person walking in and
wondering where to fit in,” Henderson says. On-time arrival gives
you a clear path to mingle, and Henderson points out that people
are most open to meeting others as they arrive together rather than
when they’re settled into established conversations or groups.
4. Body language is important.
Henderson works with professionals
who run meetings both big and small and says similar physical
cues and stances can work in networking events. Being “open,”
as she says, always means an upright posture and eyes up and
engaged, but in a networking setting, she’d add one other important detail — correctly judging physical space. Events can
get crowded, and as you’re greeting someone you’ve never met
with a handshake, “it’s important to extend your hand the whole
way” to respect their space.
5. Make it about the other person.
“If you’re going into any room
cold where you don’t know the people, be open and neutral in
your speech and stance and work on eye contact without being
too creepy about it,” Henderson notes. It’s not about being a
“party” persona but your authenticity and approachability —
give people an idea of what it’s like working with you.
6. It’s a party, not a pitch (Part 1).
“Pressing a card into someone’s
hand isn’t where you start. I think today it’s much more
important to be interested than interesting,” Lokhorst says.
Lokhorst’s tip is to listen carefully as you walk the room to find
“one or two people who are really interesting to listen to.”
Going along with tip number five, “being curious and interested
in someone else can be much better self-promotion than talking
strictly about yourself,” he says.
7. It’s a party, not a pitch (Part 2).
Part of the benefit of knowing
at least a few attendees ahead of time is having the opportunity
to develop a few open-ended questions that will let them talk
about themselves or their business outlooks. “It’s also good to
have a few good stories about yourself,” Henderson says. Have
at the ready a quick and relaxed storyline that tells the other
person who you are and what you and your team can do.
8. Business cards still have a place.
Lokhorst warned above that
leading into a conversation with a business card exchange is
passé, but short of a photographic memory, it’s still the most
important tool to have at one’s disposal when the conversation
needs to continue another time. That said, women should
strategize where to stash their business cards. “You need a
specific pocket for business cards where you can smoothly offer
one if there’s an opportunity. Women’s apparel doesn’t always
have enough pockets, so that’s worth thinking about when you
dress for an event,” Henderson says.
9. Know when to go.
Knowing when to leave a party is important
but so is knowing when to cut the mingling short. The purpose
of a networking event is to have meaningful conversations with
more than one or two people. Henderson and Lokhorst suggest
developing a tactic for comfortably ending or exiting a
conversation without making others feel abandoned, whether
it be “seeing” an imaginary person across the room that you just
have to say hello to or a simple “excuse me.”
10.Have a speedy follow-up plan.
Whether you walk away with one
good contact or several, Lokhorst says that reconnecting within
24-48 hours is key to keeping the conversation going. His tactic
almost always involves a real thank-you note (yes, a mailed one)
that contains an invitation to continue a specific aspect of the
conversation so there’s an uninterrupted train of thought if the
other party agrees to speaking or getting together again.
A final point; don’t forget your friends. While a big part of
networking is about making connections that benefit you, it’s also
important to connect your contacts with each other. Henderson
stresses you should never underestimate the power of doing
someone a favor. If you have a trusted friend or colleague who
might be a better fit for anything your new contact is looking for or
needs help with, be generous and offer their name or service. If
both sides of that connection benefit, that means two people owe
you a solid. And therein lies the power of networking.