Control, Alt, Meet: Working A Room In The Tech Age

By Megan Patiry on January 21, 2014

Control, alt, meet.

Wait, that isn’t right. Control, alt, delete is what you’re tapping, to no avail. The page you’ve found yourself on showcases a picture of a room filled with bustling, cheery suit and tie types, and relentlessly beckons you forward into its expectant limelight, awaiting your profound, “I’ve-been-cultured-the-world-over” ice breaker.

Escape? There is none. In fact, there is no keyboard, mouse, chatroom or email to hide behind here; you’re left to your basic devices, which are extremely limited and only include an average smile, clammy handshake and pocketed business cards.

Photo by LoyolaNOLA via Flickr.

Take a deep breath; this is a networking opportunity, and although you may feel like the only nerve-rattled individual in the room, trust in the fact that you’re not, by a long shot. Most employers and job-seekers commonly experience this type of anxiety before speaking to groups of strangers at networking events. Luckily, there are several tips and suggestions that can assist you, and even some of the shyest individuals out there, in working a room like a professional.

Embrace Nonverbal Communication

While modern networking has largely become a figment of social media, there are still certain benefits of face-to-face interaction with professional contacts that, believe it or not, are worth the few hours of nervousness. Dan Klamm, Outreach & Marketing Coordinator at Syracuse University Career Services, wrote in an article on social networking that “in-person meetings allow you to build stronger relationships than back-and-forth messaging online.”

“Things like body language, eye contact, and tone of voice are all essential in helping to establish rapport and build a bond,” Klamm said.

Klamm is correct in stating that body language plays an important role in the networking process, considering the fact that nonverbal language constitutes nearly 55 percent of our communications. There are several basic movements to consider while approaching and conversing with others, with some of the most important falling on eye contact and arm placement.

Eye Contact

According to Conversation Aid, eye contact should follow the 50/70 Rule, which states an individual should maintain eye contact 50 percent of the time while speaking, and 70 percent of the time while listening, and to also be mindful of glancing habits.

” … when you do make eye contact, maintain it for four to five seconds, slowly glance to the side, and then look back again. This will break the illusion of staring. Remember to move your eyes slowly, and always to the side. If your eyes dart away quickly it makes you looks shy or nervous. If you look down it gives the appearance that you lack confidence.”

Arm Movements and Stance

As with eye contact, arm movements dictate your level of interest in the conversation. Typically, folded arms give a do-not-approach, bored signal, while hands clasped behind the back indicate interest. The same is true of your stance; leaning or slouching is a sign of disinterest, while standing tall with shoulders back signals interest and confidence. Being aware of others’ stances at these events also comes in handy, especially when you are making the rounds of the room–look for small groups of two to three individuals who are standing slightly facing outward toward the room, which is a sign that they are “open” and are welcoming more people to join.

Keep Moving and Have a Goal

“Set a goal for yourself, such as having one solid conversation or asking for one introduction, and create a game plan with concrete steps to get you there,” said Nancy Ancowitz, USA-based author of Self-Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead.

This also helps to take your mind off of the fact that you’re meeting important people, and instead turns your focus to accomplishing something. This then allows for less awkward moments, as you’re moving around often and building solid conversations based on your goals before you go.

By remaining with one person or group for only about 10 to 12 minutes apiece, you also take desperation out of the equation. A confident individual meets and greets everyone with the same amount of kindness and interest, but does not linger in hopes of an offer or to try to sell themselves. Neediness will only drive a wedge between you and the other person.

Don’t Make Everything About You

This is a common mistake made by many at networking events, and it is one easily fallen into, since networking is supposed to be about showing what you have to offer to potential contacts and employers, right?

Wrong. While it is important, as mentioned above, to have a goal in place while making the rounds, it is equally important to not make that goal about simply selling yourself.

Howard Adamsky, author of Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike, said he developed an elevator speech that lasts thirty to forty seconds at the most.

“When asked, I tell people I am a writer, consultant, and public speaker who works with organizations to support growth in different areas,” Adamsky said. “If they want more, I answer their questions, but I never give them a 30-minute lecture. Neither should you.”

With that being said, it is beneficial to ask the other person questions about themselves, and even to stray away from strict vocational talk if the conversation allows.

“I, for one, am a fanatic motorcyclist, and this has generated more interest than the new book I just wrote,” Adamsky said. “Remember, relationships are more important than trying to tell everyone in the room what you do.”

This also plants you as an avid listener in your contact’s mind, and since true listeners are very rare individuals nowadays, you will be remembered as someone who made him or her feel special — someone who wasn’t just there to “get a job.”

Follow Up

You’ve shook hands, swapped business cards, offered to refill drinks and now you’re wondering what to do with all your newfound connections. This is where those conversations you had regarding everything but a job for yourself come in handy: your contact is more likely to remember your conversation due to the fact that it was outside of the endless business conversations they had that night.

Bring up, as Adamsky mentioned, your conversation on your lives as motorcyclists or a shared interest in German Shepherds — anything from your conversation that will remind the person it is you, the confident listener, that is now emailing them.

Social networking behind the computer has its benefits: you can connect in your pajamas and proactively escape web pages with one click. However, in implementing these tips, you may find yourself unplugging for a while, and possibly even find meeting potential employers face-to-face not as daunting as you once thought.

Heck, you may even let up on the mental delete key.

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