Work the room: how to network confidently and make the right impression

After almost two years of remote working, zoom mixers and weekly webinars, networking events are making their way back into our calendars. Yet, despite our readiness to return to normality, the majority of us are just now realising how long it's been since we've networked in a room full of strangers. (Needless to say, the words anxious and intimidating spring to mind.)

Whilst we wish we could tell you that working the room was just like riding a bike, after several lockdowns and numerous isolation periods (for the unfortunate amongst us), it would be incredibly unhelpful and honestly untrue.

However, that doesn't mean you should start declining invitations. Networking events are a fantastic way to meet new people and create new contacts - the only problem is you're out of practice. Yes, you may have lost some confidence. But so has everybody else!

Thankfully our advice isn't limited to a good old fashioned pep talk. We have also included several practical tips you can implement to help you transition back into networking events. Covering everything from first impressions to confidence boosters, we'll talk you through each step of the process, ensuring you can work the room with both ease and enjoyment.


How to make the RIGHT first impression

a man gesturing yes For better or for worse, first impressions count - especially when it comes to networking. Get it right, and the opportunities will present themselves. But get it wrong, and you may as well be pushing water uphill (with a sieve). So, how exactly do you create the right first impression?

Before we begin, it's important to preface that some of these suggestions may seem shallow or inconsequential. And in some respects, you may be right - your work should speak for itself. However, until people get to know who you are and what you're capable of, their opinion of you is limited to your initial interaction. Meaning it's in your best interest to create a positive first impression - if only to avoid false preconceptions.



Develop your online presence

Since the pandemic, we've relied on social networking to connect us with prospective contacts and clients. And in doing so, we've learnt a lot about attracting people via social media. So, what's the secret?

You need to develop a strong online presence. Why? Because even now, as restrictions ease and networking events resume, we still find ourselves scouring the internet to form our first impressions. Therefore, you need to be active online - particularly on your LinkedIn profile. Posting statuses, sharing blogs and commenting in forums provides people with valuable insight into who you are (both personally and professionally), what you do and what value you bring to your clients. It's also worth ensuring your other social media channels are up to par (and personal accounts are private where necessary).

In doing so, you're ensuring whoever visits your profile gains a fair and professional impression of you. As a result, you can successfully expand your network from the comfort of your own home whilst taking some of the pressure off at networking events.(Get more leads through LinkedIn with our conversations starters)

Present yourself professionally

a man in a suit

We've all heard the saying, 'you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.' Yet whilst the sentiment of the statement is incredibly important, we also have to acknowledge that when it comes to first impressions, particularly in a professional setting, people do make assumptions based on your appearance.

So, make sure you take an extra five minutes to check your appearance before attending any networking events. We're not suggesting you change how you look - authenticity is invaluable. Instead, the goal is to present the best version of yourself!

Pay special attention to the small details, like missing buttons and coffee stains - you want to ensure there are no chinks in your armour against sceptics who might question your credibility.

Be friendly and approachable

Networking events can seem incredibly daunting - and understandably so. Meeting lots of new, well-accomplished people can be intimidating. However, if you let your nerves get the better of you, you probably won't do yourself justice when introducing yourself to others.

To successfully work the room, you need to be calm and confident - even if you don't feel that way inside. (This is where you have to fake it until you make it.) Don't worry too much about what to say - we will get to that later. Just be polite and friendly, and the conversation will take care of itself.

It's also worth noting a good handshake goes a long way. There's nothing more awkward than either a wet or overly aggressive handshake.

Prepare an introduction

a handshake to represent how to work the roomNow for the final piece of the puzzle - the introduction.

When introducing yourself, don't limit yourself to your job title. Instead, when people ask you what you do, explain how you bring value to your clients. We recommend doing this by preparing a short sentence to encapsulate the most valuable aspects of your role. For example, 'I help professional advisors gain better business for less effort.'

However, if you're concerned this type of response doesn't answer their question fully, you can always include your job title at the start. Otherwise, if they have additional questions, you've presented them with the perfect opportunity to ask!

So, if you want to stand out from the crowd (and bypass some of the small-talk), we strongly recommend using a sentence sound bite to kick start your conversations.

Make networking a part of your marketing plan! Download our free guide to creating a plan that wins new business for your practice.


Here's how to work the room (our top 10 tips)

A positive first impression will get you far. However, nailing that initial interaction is only part of the process. Thankfully, we have several more tips to guide you through the remainder of your evening.

Here are our top 10 tips for how to work the room:

1. Do your research

Firstly, find out who's on the guest list. Once you know who is attending, you can start researching and identifying who you want to connect with. (We recommend connecting with 3-6 people per event.) Find out who they are and what line of business they're in - their LinkedIn should also present you with many personal and professional talking points. It's also helpful to research current events beforehand, as they act as great conversation starters.

2. Bring the right resources

a woman handing out a business cardThere are many ways to demonstrate professionalism, and carrying the right resources is one of them. Here are some essentials you'll need to work the room:

  • A personalised name badge that showcases your company logo
  • Plenty of business cards (it's best to keep some stashed in your wallet and your car)
  • A small notepad. Jot down anything you've agreed to do for the people you have met (send them an article, forward them a contact etc.)
  • A business card organiser. You don't want to be hunting for somebody's business card six months down the line.

3. Prepare your elevator pitch

When you're just one of the many interesting people attending a networking event, you want to ensure you can grab people's attention. Preparing an elevator pitch is a great way to do just that. It allows you to explain the benefits of your role quickly and efficiently (without skirting around the subject for half an hour).

Whilst most elevator pitches are only 30-seconds long, some networking events require guests to do a 60-second or 5-minute spot. Therefore, it's always a good idea to have a longer pitch ready (just in case).

It's also worth mentioning that just because your elevator pitch is about you, it doesn't mean you can't involve your audience. Make sure you connect with the other guest by asking them relatable questions!

Read: 5 mistakes accountants make with their 60-second pitch at networking groups

4. Stand somewhere sociable

a networking eventYou're not going to make any new contacts crouched over in the corner. Therefore, you want to be stood in a position where you can make eye contact with people when they're arriving, without being rude or turning away from whoever you're conversing with. Ideal spots are near/facing the entrance, the table where people collect their badges or the refreshment stand. The goal is to connect with one of your targets for the evening before the meal or seminar begins. That way, you're able to develop your relationship throughout the feature of the event.



5. Start a conversation

We've all arrived at an event where everyone is already talking. Although it can be awkward, it's important to remember that everyone at the event is there to meet new people. So, instead of twiddling your thumbs, feeling like billy-no-mates, try your best to start a conversation with someone.

If there's someone else standing alone, approach them - they'll be thankful to have someone to talk to. If not, ask to join another group. Usually, groups standing in open formations want to welcome more people into their conversation.

6. Open with a question

One of the most daunting parts of any networking event is actually deciding what on earth to say. So, to relieve your anxiety, we've outlined six opening questions that will help you work the room:

  • How has your day been?
  • How was your journey?
  • Have you been to one of these events before?
  • Do you know anyone here?
  • What do you do?
  • Which company do you work for?

7. Asks about their business

two women conversingThe temptation with networking is to promote yourself and your business to as many people as possible. The problem is no one wants to form a relationship with someone who only talks about themselves.

Therefore, if you want to successfully work the room, you need to be asking people about themselves and their business. Listen to them, compliment them on their achievements - the goal is to establish mutually beneficial connections, not to hand out as many business cards as possible.



8. Facilitate introductions

If someone asks to join your group, take the time to introduce everybody. Not only is it polite, but it's also the perfect opportunity to demonstrate all you've learned. For example, 'Steve is an accountant who specialises in expanding small businesses.'

9. Find a reason to stay in touch

You may be thinking, why do I need a reason to stay in touch? The whole point of attending a networking event is to expand your network. However, sometimes it helps to have an incentive to reach out after an event. Otherwise, we forget or end up leaving it too long. Some examples include:

  • Sharing a relevant article
  • Forwarding them a prospective client
  • Connecting them with a relevant contact
  • Inviting them to an event/webinar

10. Be sure to circulate

many lego figures to represent making sure to work the roomYou can't work the room if you're only talking to one person. Therefore, you need to know when to continue a conversation and when to call it a day. For example, if the person you're talking to is no longer maintaining eye contact, or there's a long pause in dialogue, you should take the opportunity to excuse yourself.

Alternatively, if you've made an acquaintance who doesn't want to be left alone, introduce them to someone you've already met before excusing yourself from the conversation.

Read: 7 time-saving business networking tips for accountants


How to appear confident when working a room full of people

For many of us, covid has really knocked our confidence. So whilst networking tips and tricks are helpful, the real question we're begging to ask is 'how do we feel more confident?'

Whilst it is important to acknowledge that confidence is a skill like any other (it isn't a personality trait or a quality you possess), we also want to offer practical advice for those suffering from a lack of self-confidence.

With that in mind, here are some steps you can follow to help you feel more confident when working the room:

Arrive early

If you arrive late to a networking event, the chances are, everyone else has already started chatting, which means you either have to search for someone to talk to or approach a large group. And neither sound particularly appealing.

However, if you arrive early, there are fewer people (and less noise) to compete with, making it's much easier to make initial introductions.

a group of business peopleArrange to meet someone at the event

If you're anxious about arriving alone, arrange to meet someone you know at the event. Whether it's a colleague or a friend, having someone there to support you can significantly boost your confidence.

Set yourself a goal

Entering a room full of people with no set goals or intentions can leave you feeling lost. So make sure you set yourself a goal for the next event. Having something to aim for forces you to focus on the outcome and not the process.

Approach small groups or individuals

The only way to become more confident when approaching people is to practice. Start by approaching someone standing on their own and work your way up to introducing yourself to a small group. Although it may seem intimidating, everyone attending is there to meet new people, so don't overthink it.


Practise makes perfect

As we mentioned previously, the only way to gain genuine confidence is through practice - so our best advice to those who wish to work the room is to keep showing up! You never know who you could meet or what opportunities you might miss.

Yes, it will seem daunting, but you have to remember everyone is in the same boat. So don't let your lack of confidence stop you. With a bit of patience, lots of practice (and the help of these hints and tips), you'll soon become an expert at nailing introductions and working the room.


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