Lillian  D. Bjorseth

Article Summary:

Work an event, not just a room, to make networking work for you!

Work an Event, not Just a Room

Networking is the number one reason many people join organizations. When they don't get the results they anticipate, they "blame" the group for not delivering on its promises.

Most organizations provide opportunities for connections to occur rather than making the connections. While organizations need to shoulder the responsibility for offering creative and multiple venues locally and nationally, members also need to take more control of their destiny. They need to learn to network strategically rather than just network. Most people like to step up to the plate when they get to the room (and sometimes strike out!) rather than doing all the preparation involved in a planned approach to this vital art.

Working an event entails knowing what to do beforehand, how to work it once you get there and what to do afterwards. We'll examine each more carefully after we look at what networking is.

What is networking?
Networking is an active, dynamic process that links people into mutually beneficial relationships. It is planting seeds. A sale is harvesting. The more fertile the ground in which you plant your seeds, the more likely you are to reap a good crop.

What to do Before the Event
An element that is key to all your relationship building is to make a plan! Word-of-mouth is the most successful marketing tool, which means networking needs to be part of your written marketing plan. Once you have an overall plan, it can be a first step in choosing any events to attend. Answer questions like:

  • What is the focus of your business or career?
  • What do you do?
  • What would you like to do?
  • Are you satisfied with your job? Do you want to move laterally, get promoted, change jobs? Do you want to stay where you are geographically?
  • Who is your target market? Who are they, specifically? When, why, where, how do they buy?
  • Where can you meet them?
  • What organizations/clubs do they join? What conferences do they attend? Whom do you know who knows them?

Prepare yourself.
Your "practice sessions" help make sure you are ready for the real thing: the room.

1. Become a student of Impression Management.
Know what impression you want to create and how to create it. People decide 10 things about you within 10 seconds of seeing you. It is based on your image, a combination of your appearance and behavior. Every color you wear sends a message. Decide what you want it to be. Authority, responsibility and knowledge? Then, wear navy blue. Successful? Then wear darker gray. Dependable, practical, stable - brown. Intuitive, regal, spiritual - purple. Powerful, dignified, sophisticated - black. While black is the most slimming color, it also can be too powerful for some situations.

Is the event business casual or formal business? Whatever the answer, remember that a suit jacket with long sleeves, slightly padded shoulders and a collar make you look one-third more powerful. Body language is another key element that speaks before you say anything. Your posture can bespeak confidence or the lack thereof. Learn the meaning of the seven standard handshakes, and how to react to them. Eye contact needs to be steady without being too piercing or too weak. A good rule of thumb is to maintain it at least 80 percent of the time. You can look down or away in thought; however, you need to return to the subject relatively quickly before you appear to be uninterested.

2. Prepare a powerful verbal business card.
You want your all-important introductory words to intrigue people while at the same time inform them about what you do. They must be laden with benefits. People are most interested in how what you do affects or helps them. This is not the same thing as an elevator speech, which is 30-60 seconds long. This one is about 10-15 seconds. That's all the longer you have to grab someone's attention. It is also the length of time that is proper for you to speak before giving someone else a chance. Make sure to include active verbs, the most powerful words in the English language. For example:

I am Lillian Bjorseth, and I help entrepreneurs through Fortune 500 employees increase their comfort level with meeting people and get along better with others.
Notice I did not say I am a speaker, trainer, author, etc. Those words generally cause people to think, "So what." Make yours elicit the question, "How?" That's when you can launch into all the things you are itching to say.

3. Know your relationship-building strengths and limitations.
Use a behavioral tool such as DISC to analyze yourself in the networking arena. Even more importantly, learn to read others so you can network in their style and quickly help them feel comfortable. If you are naturally confident like the Dauntless style and have a powerful stance, handshake and eye contact, ease up a little, lest you overwhelm others. Indefatigables, curb your natural enthusiasm and desire to do almost all the talking. You'll benefit more from listening more. Supportive networkers, push your comfort level, and talk with three or four people, rather than just the one who makes you feel safe. And, for those of you with a Careful style, be less stoic and react more. People may think you are aloof, don't care and don't want to be bothered with small talk, and therefore, relationship building in general.

What to do at the Event
Now, it's time to "preach" what you have been practicing. Even people who understand the value of networking may have trouble getting over the first hurdle: walking into a room and feeling as if they fit. Some feel this way every time a conversation ends, and they need to start the process anew. One helpful hint is to arrive early. This allows you to meet key people. Be respectful of their time, as they often have much to do at the last minute. Shake hands, make a good impression and move on.

Arriving early also gives you an opportunity to choose the right seat, get the best exposure for your materials if there is such a table, meet others in a less frenzied atmosphere, relax and adjust in the moment and eat. Since it is impolite to speak while eating and you want your hands free, don't walk around with a plate in one hand and a beverage in the other. Especially risky is to hold a cold beverage in your right hand and then transfer it to the left to shake someone's hand. Brrrr!

Another hint is to think of attendees as guests in your home. Act like a host rather than a guest. Approach people rather than waiting to be approached. It's amazing how much warmer and friendlier events seem to be when you practice that method.

My 10-Minute Rule for Working a Room breaks down into an introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction is for small talk (a misnomer since this lays the foundation for the rest of the conversation) and possible business card exchange. Remember business card etiquette: If you want someone to have your card, ask them for theirs first. If they do not ask you in return, deliberate before giving them one.

The goal of the body is to find a commonality. Have your "ask-for" questions prepared so that you can determine quickly if you wish to pursue building a relationship. Equally important are your "listen-for" answers, again, so you can determine if you wish to move to another level.

The conclusion ends the interaction, and for some it is as hard as starting a conservation. Plan endings just as you plan initial words. This helps you politely end one encounter and move on to the next. The person you are speaking with is probably eager to move on, too. Good times to end a conversation include when:

  • About 10 minutes have elapsed (you'll get a feel for this)
  • The other person's eyes noticeably begin wandering
  • Others shift their stance away from you - Someone glances at his/her watch
  • Feedback is "interesting," "hmmm," "really," especially in a monotone.
Say good-bye to everyone you met. Keep it short, upbeat and positive, and always use the person's first name.

What to do After the Event
You will immediately stand out if you do what you promised. This is what separates those with integrity from those who merely say they will do something.

While there are myriad ways to store your information and follow-up methods, what is most important is that you choose the one(s) that fit the other person's preferences and behavioral style. You need to know if it's e-mail, a letter, the telephone or lunch. Know whether to talk about the weather or get right to business. Gauge the right amount of time to wait between contacts and how often to pursue others. People like to be treated in their style, not yours, and as the sales person (and we all sell all day long!), it is up to you to adapt to each situation.

Happy networking!

Lillian D. Bjorseth, according to the The Chicago Tribune, is a "networking expert". The Association Forum of Chicagoland calls her "the business networking authority". She's a speaker, trainer and author who helps entrepreneurs through Fortune 100 employees build high-value relationships by honing their business development, business networking and communication skills. For more information, visit

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