Better weather is on the way. Pandemic restrictions are easing. Nonprofits are returning to holding spring galas. Garden parties and outdoor concerts will follow. Wedding venues are working through their backlog. Do you remember how to work the crowd at a social event?
Working the crowd or room might sound predatory. It’s not. You are extending yourself instead of sitting in a corner or attaching yourself to the one person you know. You aren’t on the prowl for business. You are here to have a good time and meet people. The two exceptions where you can promote business are Chamber of Commerce events and networking group events. It’s expected there.
Here's how you work the room:
- Do some research beforehand. There are some people you want to meet. Who are they? Their firm has taken out an ad in the event program. They are a sponsor. They will attend because they want to see how their money is being spent.
- Dress well. It’s right for so many reasons. You want to fit in. Speaking of fitting in, your clothing doesn’t need to be expensive, but it should fit properly. Many of us are still under the illusion we fit into our pre Covid lockdown wardrobe. Put another way, clothing shouldn’t be tight.
- Set a goal to meet six new people. There are a hundred people in the room. This will be tougher than you think. You will be tempted to sit with your friends or stay close to the bar. It takes effort to approach strangers. Do it.
- Use your eyes. Practice your observation skills. People give clues about what’s important to them. Pay attention to watches, jewelry, designer items and emblems affiliating them with an organization or cause. These can be conversation starters or help to keep the conversation going. Compliment them on the article you noticed. Who is offended by a compliment?
- Choose some icebreaker questions. Meeting strangers at an event is similar to dating. You need something to say to get conversation going. If it’s a nonprofit gala you might ask what is their connection to the organization? If it is the opening of an art exhibition ask what is their favorite painting in the show? If it’s a wedding, how do they know the happy couple?
- What is your answer to “What do you do?” That seems obvious. You have a few elevator speeches. You need a one, two and three sentence answer. You will know which to use so you don’t come on too strong. The object is to get them asking questions. If they don’t, move onto the next subject.
- Let them talk. Get them talking. Draw them out. People love talking about themselves. Be suitably impressed if they talk about their job, car, house or travels. You are putting them at ease. They are giving you lots of personal information.
- Find their passion. Some people aren’t talkers. The accessories you identified earlier may be a clue to their interests, favorite causes or passion. You will know when you have touched on the right subject. They will be forthcoming, maybe dominating the conversation.
- Less is more. There will be a moment when conversation slows down. If it’s immediately after you met them, a few questions can get it restarted. If you have been talking for a while you want to disengage. A clever approach I read about decades ago is to begin the conversation with two glasses of wine, one in each hand. When it’s time to disengage you remember you need to deliver the second glass to someone. (You must follow through because they may be watching!) If you want the conversation to continue, offer the person the second glass of wine instead.
- Reconnect. You met, you spoke, you disengaged. Now its time to reconnect. The bottlenecks at events are the coat check and car valet station. There’s a line of people waiting. You can reconnect and suggest you stay in touch.
Working the room takes work! You never know where the first encounter might lead!