A key skill for any public figure or PR pro is working a room.
Some people believe this is a genetic trait, that you’re either born charming and social or you’re not.
Those people are wrong.
Other people think that working a room means cranking your personality up to 11 and being the sort of hyper-social cheeseball.
You know the type. The male version of the Hypersocial Cheeseball makes guns out of his
fingers and shoots his brand new buddies while winking. He’s loud. He’s physical. He’ll slap you on the back and put you in a friendly headlock. He laughs at his own jokes, which he apparently defines as the last word of any sentence he utters.
The female version of the Hypersocial Cheeseball doesn’t hug each new best friend for life she just met — no, that would be gauche. She hugs them with an air kiss to both cheeks, then makes plans for coffee, lunch or a vacation getaway to Paris with both families and “all our kids!”
Working a room doesn’t mean working up a sweat. Here are five tips for doing it right.
1) Relax, Relax, Relax
The first rule for working a room is simple: Be relaxed and normal.
Meeting people for the first time is inherently awkward. Reduce the tension by not being so intense. If you’re relaxed, they’ll feel more relaxed.
This isn’t a race to see how many hands you can shake in thirty minutes or a competition to see who can hand out the most business cards.
Look around the
room. Who do you notice? Who do you want to meet? Chances are, you’ll skip over the people being shy and the people being loud. You’ll naturally be attracted to people who seemed relaxed, charming and intelligent.
2) Warm Up First
Don’t walk into a room cold. That only increases your nervousness and builds up tension.
Warm up first by talking to people you meet on the way there. Say hello or good evening to people on the street.
Introduce yourself to somebody — in the elevator, in the hallway, anywhere.
3) Work the Entire Room — But Focus on One Person At a Time
Say you’ve met somebody and everything clicks. You can talk to this person all night!
That’s great. It’s one person out of 50, or 200. Get moving. That doesn’t mean you abandon this great new friend. What it does mean is you’ve got a base camp now, a familiar and friendly face to come back to after meeting other people.
Or take your new friend and be each others’ wingman as you move around the room.
But whatever you do, focus on whoever you’re talking to at the moment. Don’t be the person who’s always looking around to see if there’s a more important VIP they should scurry over to chat up.
The best politicians and celebrities have this down to a science. They focus only on the person they’re having a conversation with — a dialogue, with them mostly listening — and make them feel like there’s nobody else in the room.
4) Introduce People to Each Other
Back to a basic rule: it’s not about you.
If you know people in the room, but they don’t know each other, introduce them. Build bridges.
Working a room is about building all kinds of connections and relationships. It’s not a web with you in the center.
5) Follow Up
Tell people thank you, and that you enjoyed talking to them — and if you made plans to do business, or have coffee, follow up on that.
People are often reluctant to take that step. Do it for all the people you met and got a business card, a scribbled napkin or torn piece of paper with their email, Twitter address or whatever they prefer to use for communication.
Following up is key to your credibility. Are you talking for the sake of talking, or do you really want to build connections and relationships? The proof happens after the event is over.