Welcome to the second installment of the Successful networking tips series. In the first part we looked over mindset and goal setting. Today we are going to go over the next step, namely strategies on how to approach others and body language tricks that will help you read the room.
By all accounts, this is the most difficult part of networking, since it preys on people’s fear of rejection and their desires to perform well in social settings. We’ve all been there, in that Frozen Mind state, where all the conversation opening lines slip through our fingers or just don’t seem good enough.
Here are six simple steps that will show you how to read the room and identify those conversations that are open for cutting in.
Before you can begin your approach, the first step is to build up your confidence. Since confidence doesn’t have a flip switch, you’re going to have to work your way up to it.
A good way to do that is to think in increments – instead of the “I am confident, I will master all conversations’ approach, start with something smaller like “ I know a few interesting topics so I should be able to get at least a small conversation going “.
From then on it’s a matter of adding bridges between where you are at and where you would want to be at.
Most network events have some form of catering. The best place to stay would be next to the buffet or the bar. In deference to the fight or flight instinct that takes places in stressful situations, people in general prefer to be standing when having to interact with strangers.
Standing next to the bar will make you seem more approachable and has the added benefit of placing you in the area where most people are likely to gather.
For those who have more problems initiating conversations with strangers, a good idea is to come to the event early on.
You would be more likely to encounter individuals, rather than groups, which makes them more easy to approach, especially since they are probably just as eager to get a conversation going.
It also means that you’ll already know a few people once the rest of the attendees show up.
Eye contact, whether initiated by you or another person is a great way to indicate receptivity.
The key to reading eye movements is not in the duration of the gaze – most people avoid prolonged eye contact, but in the frequency of repetitiveness. Shifting eye contact tells you that the other person is open to approach but nervous.
If groups are already formed, it becomes essential to distinguish which conversations are open for cutting in. An easy way to do that is by reading the positions of the group.
Open shapes like two people standing in a ‘V’ position or a larger group standing in a ‘U’ position signify that the members are open to approach.
Distance is also important – the further the conversation partners are from each other, the easier it will be for you to join in.
Once you have made your way to the group you want to approach you need to figure out a way to cut in. A strategy that can be easily applied in this case is that of the ‘dancing etiquette’ – ask the members of the conversation if you may cut in. Never underestimate the power of simplicity.
Another way to break the ice is to make a general statement about the topic at hand during a lull in the conversation.
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