Best Practices

Loudoun SourceLink: How to Work a Room

Published Jul 09, 2013

How to Work a Room

By Lois Kirkpatrick, Loudoun Virginia Economic Development

Growing a business requires meeting other people who can help you succeed. You might meet those people at happy hour, a showcase for potential investors, or at the gym, but getting past “hello” is a must. So how do you break the ice?

Small talk.

Good small talk starts long before you find yourself at a networking event. Make a habit of reading interesting blogs, trying new activities, experimenting with different hobbies, and keeping up on current events. This will stuff your mental backpack with lots of conversational tidbits you can pull out when you meet somebody new.

Business Card

Rules of the Road

When you find yourself in a potential networking situation, keep these things in mind:

1.      Don’t put extra pressure on yourself. You’re not running for office, you’re just making business connections. The point is to have positive interactions that could eventually lead to finding a great hire, a new customer or a potential investor. Don’t feel pressured to be the most charming, witty person in the universe. 

2.      Miss Manners is right: Don’t ever talk about sex, religion or politics in a casual social setting. And while you’re at it, avoid TMI. Even if your conversation partner happens to be a therapist, chaplain or health care professional, he or she is off the clock and it’s better to schedule an office visit if you have something serious to ask.

3.      Don’t try to become BFFs with everyone in the room. Decide on a reasonable number of people you’re going to engage with – say, three or four. Commit to each conversation for at least five minutes, and if it doesn’t go anywhere interesting by then, feel free to move on.

Smile, Shake Hands, Then What?

Start your networking interaction by asking good questions. A good question is open-ended, which means it can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.”

Be sure to respond with your own information so that you create a two-way conversation. It’s tempting to fire off question after question until you find something you have in common, but that can make the other person feel interrogated.

Try to steer the conversation toward a topic you enjoy. Talking about your favorite subjects makes you more relaxed and engaging.

Exit Strategies

Remember, your goal is to meet several people per event, which means at some point to have to exit from the conversation. An easy way to do that is to ask, “I’m trying to meet several people here; do you know anyone you could introduce me to?”

Or you can do the reverse, and introduce the person to someone else you know at the event.

Either way, when it’s time to move on, be sure to end the encounter on a positive note. Say something like, “Thanks for talking with me, have a great rest of the evening!”

Best-case scenario: you made a connection and found a way to be mutually beneficial to each other’s business. In that case, be sure to recap any follow-ups you promised (and make sure to deliver!): “Great meeting you, and I’ll email you that article in the morning.”

Do you have any great networking tips that work well for you? Share them with us at LoudounBiz@Loudoun.Gov.

Content contributed by Lois Kirkpatrick, Loudoun SourceLink. Loudoun SourceLink is a proud affiliate of U.S.SourceLink, America’s largest resource network for entrepreneurs.