Networking events can be a great way to expand your group of contacts. But they also can attract relentless salespeople who are just looking new clients, rather than meaningful connections. So how do you figure out in a matter of seconds who to talk to and who to avoid at a cocktail party?
According to a recent article from the Wall Street Journal, being able to properly size up the room at a networking event involves more than just figuring out who is having a good time and who looks like they're ready to leave--it's also about knowing which groups might offer the most useful conversation. To get the most out of every networking event, watch out for these three things:
People who are open to conversation adopt an open stance.
Being able to properly read body language will help you figure out who is worth talking to before you even say a word to them. According to Kelly Decker, the president of a San Francisco consulting and training firm, the people who are more willing to welcome people into their conversation are going to stand with their shoulders apart and their hands at their sides, not crossed. Rather than facing into the middle of the circle, they'll be facing outwards to allow someone else to enter the conversation.
Eliminate distractions while you converse.
Particularly if you're having a one-on-one conversation, stay hyper-focused on the person you're talking to. Don't look at your phone, glance at your watch, or look over the shoulder of the person across from you--those are all dead giveaways that you're looking for an escape from the conversation. Also make sure to keep one hand free of snacks and drinks so you can easily shake hands.
Focus on formations.
Be on the lookout for a group that's standing in a u-formation, or has gaps in between participants--they're more likely to be looking for someone to join the discussion. The best group to join, according to Anne Baber, co-owner of Contacts Count, a networking consultantancy firm, is one who is "just sort of muddling along"--they're probably looking for someone to liven up the conversation. On the flip side, a group that is standing in a tightly, packed enclosed circle and talking or laughing all at once, is likely made up of people who already know each other, making the conversation more difficult to join.
Remember that even if you are feeling uncomfortable at a networking event, most likely someone else is too. In between conversations, walk around the room with a smile and positive body language, and you're more likely to get people coming up to you, says Michele Woodward, a Washington-D.C. based executive coach.
"For some people, a networking event is the seventh level of hell. If I can reach out and make it a little easier, I’m going to try," Woodward tells the Journal.