I watched the Patriots game at a friend's house this weekend, and there were some new faces in the group. I introduced myself and made casual conversation with everyone, but it reminded me that working a room is a skill that requires practice. It's not easy to make small talk with someone you don't know, but it makes parties (or business dinners, networking events, wedding receptions, etc) a whole lot more enjoyable. Be engaged! Here are five of my own tips for "working a room":
- Introduce yourself. Regardless of the type of event that you're at, know how to introduce yourself. Keep it short and sweet- maybe include a bit about how you know the party's host, or if you're at a networking event, include a brief sentence about what you do for work.
- Have something to say. After you introduce yourself, you'll need to follow it up with something to get the conversation started. I like to use a sincere compliment or a note about the event to give myself an "in." For example, "Hi, I'm Lauren. I noticed your earrings- they are so beautiful! Where did you get them?" Everyone loves a little flattery, and the conversation can flow from there. Another tip? Make sure you're up to date on what's going on in the world. Current events are bound to come up- I catch the highlights every morning in The Skimm.
- Approach groups. You're not working the room if you stand with one person and talk to them for three hours. Approaching small groups of 2-3 will allow you to meet more people and you won't get trapped in a conversation- it's easier to make an exit when you're talking to more than one person.
- Smile and be friendly. This should go without saying, but nobody wants to talk to the person sitting at the bar alone, frowning and staring into their drink. Smile, make eye contact with people, and look like you're enjoying yourself. If you're having fun, people will naturally gravitate towards you.
- Have an exit plan. Inevitably, you're going to want to get out of a conversation now and then. Be ready to make a graceful getaway by mentioning that you need to refill your drink, or offering to introduce your chatty companion to someone new. For example, at a networking event I might wave over a colleague and say something like "Trina, this is Alex. We were just talking about the new hire training. I know you've been working on that- you should weigh in!" (while I move along to the next group).