Business Article

The Best Way To Work A Room...Is Not To! By Mark V. Matz
Collection Industry Consultant

The title of this article may seem contradictory to its purpose.  The concept of “working the room” needs to be revisited as marketing continues to evolve in the social networking age.  Discussing "how to work the internet" is another topic for another day, this article will focus on the original form of networking; face to face.   

The often robotic and mechanical approach that many professionals often fall into can all too easily have the opposite effect of what is intended - a best practices approach to meet prospects.  After all, what is the real purpose than anyone spends their time and money for by attending a business social function?  While it is a bonus to meet old friends and catch up on our lives, the real focus must be making new business contacts and secure the ones we already have.  With that in mind, it is time to take a look at what we do and update how we interact with people.  

Picture this, a huge ballroom in a big-city hotel at a trade show’s social event.  The room is dimly lit and filled with hundreds of people.  There’s a long line at the bar, as wait staff mingle with the crowd and pass trays of finger food (or maybe there’s a line snaking around a buffet table).  Some in this crowd are friends, others are definitely prospects and of course – the competition is there too.  You spot circles of people engaged in conversation at various levels of intensity.  Others are wandering alone or in small groups with drinks or appetizers in hand seeking to find a face or name on a badge.  Circling the room, you’ve observed others making the cardinal sin of networking – just walking up to someone they don’t know and asking who does their work in a particular city while thrusting a card into their hand, then moving on to their next target.  We’ve all been there haven’t we?  Let’s put this picture on freeze frame for a moment.  

The hosts of the events are doing their job, leading you and the others to the stream so you can drink from the waters of networking accompanied by your prospects and peers.  We must understand that the host is just setting the stage, but we are the actors who must know the lines, understand our cues and be ready to play our part.  Actually, to properly work a room, you have to genuinely have a passion for the play in which you are the lead actor. But what is more important and the key to your success; making a genuine connection with the people behind the badge.  The real goal of networking is getting to know people, their needs and wants, likes and dislikes.   

Now the stage is set (you’re at a networking event) and your mind-set is fixed on genuinely meeting people with whom you can share your expertise (those who truly need your services).  Your goal is not to hand out all your cards, but build mutually beneficial relationships based primarily on business, but strengthened by a mutual respect.  With all this in place, there are some stage directions that will help you achieve your goals.  Most great actors are perceived so not only because of their talent, but by the quality of the written work, preparation and their ability to take direction (i.e. absorb new ideas).  

We’re back at the entrance to that ballroom now and once again the room is buzzing with conversation.  Before you came down from your room, you made sure of the dress code for the event.  Being dressed to the nines when the event is a casual or wearing jeans at a black-tie affair will get the visibility that you do not want.  Walking towards the door, you make sure your name badge is visible as you greet the staff at the door checking names. You are through the door and have your cards in one pocket, keeping the other empty for those you expect to receive (never a good idea to mix them up and give away somebody else’s card).  Keeping some breath mints handy is always a good idea.  You have a pen ready to write notes about the people you meet on their card or small notebook (don’t expect your memory to recall every detail).  Preferably, have a good-quality pen.  You might use one with your contact information printed on it that you can give away.  Of course, you can add contact information to your smart phone, but don’t make the cardinal sin of taking calls on it.  You have voicemail, use it.  Is your elevator speech ready?  You know, this is the one where you share all about who you are in thirty seconds or less.  Of course, if you have more time to talk, you are ready with more bullet points too.  

Are you in a good frame of mind?  Have you put aside the troubles of the day?  This is a good time for an attitude adjustment.  Nobody wants to hear your troubles, so put a smile on your face and focus on being someone others want to spend time with.  Banish negative thoughts and ignore less-than-positive comments.  Simply put, project a positive attitude and be confident.  After blending into a conversation by simply joining in a group and listening, maybe add a brief comment to their stream of logic.  Be sure to introduce yourself.  Then later, you can take the lead by interjecting more information or another thought.  Asking questions is a great conversation starter as it shows interest in others and generally people like to talk about their own experiences (often feeling flattered that you’re showing interest in them).  Again, the goal is getting to know people before asking for business, so be sure to listen to what they say and interact with them on a personal level before simply making your pitch.   

For many, striking up a conversation with unfamiliar people has all the appeal of going to the dentist for root canal work.  The easiest way to avoid this is by preparing yourself and practicing your introductions.  Speak in a clear and confident voice and make eye contact.  Repeat the name of those whom you meet as it will help you to better remember them.  As in life, all will not go as planned.  Forgot your badge or see that you’re dressed inappropriately, get back to your room and correct it.  Need mints?  Go to the hotel gift shop or stop by the main desk.  Your targets are not responding to you?  Don’t take it personally, withdraw and look for others (it’s a big room after all and the night is young).  Maintain your positive and outgoing persona and you will achieve networking success by sticking to your goals and keeping a sense of humor.  The golden rule is a good one to rely on, treat others as you would like to be treated.   

Keep moving!  While you may become comfortable in a group of people, don’t get cemented to the floor all night.  Sitting at a small table for a more in-depth conversation, but you’re better served by keeping those well-polished shoes moving.  Time will pass quickly and suddenly the event will be coming to its natural conclusion.  Tell people you enjoyed meeting them, ask those you’d like to know better what events they will be attending for the duration of the meeting and say you’re looking forward to talking again.  If the opportunity presents itself, invite some people to join you for dinner or drinks (but don’t be put off if they have already made plans).  As you walk out the doors, thank the staff who have been on their feet making sure the event has run smoothly.  Are you done?  Not until you organize all the cards and information you obtained, maybe making some notes while still fresh and updating your calendar with any meeting or follow up conversations.  When you get back to the office, be sure to send a brief note (most often done by email) that you enjoyed meeting the person.  Add all the new contact information into your database and of course, follow up.  It is often said the key to success is just showing up, but be sure you follow some established protocols and you will be successful.

Meet Mark V. Matz

Mark V. Matz - began working in the broadcast media for WGN Radio and Television in Chicago, IL (a part of the Tribune Company) back in the late 1970's as part of the team on the then number one rated radio program. He later worked in the station’s Sports Department working for Baseball Hall of Fame Broadcasters Jack Brickhouse, Harry Caray and Lou Boudreau - before moving into the Finance Department at WGN, reaching the title of Credit Manager in 1986.

Moving beyond broadcasting, he went to work in the credit industry on the association side of the business before branching out to provide marketing services to a number of members of the industry ranging from attorneys, collection agencies and law list publishers. Mark served on staff as Marketing and Membership Director for the CLLA and remains active with the association; including serving as Co-Chair of the National Marketing Committee and on the Midwest Regional Executive Council. He also served on the Creditors’ Rights Executive Council, as Secretary of the Association of Law List Publishers and in various positions on other CLLA and Commercial Collection Agency Association committees. Mark has written numerous articles and spoken at a number of educational programs on marketing, finance, credit and collection issues during his thirty-plus year career.




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