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Networking: Breaking into the Buzz

Breaking into conversational groups is one of the things people ask me about when I'm conducting networking sessions. There's a buzz that hovers over a crowded room that comes from all those people conversing. You need to break into that buzz to be a great networker.

Let's face it, looking at a room full of people you don't know can be intimidating. At first glance, it appears everyone knows everyone else - except you! The first thing you need to remember is that this is not true. The only difference between you and all those others is that they have been in the room five minutes longer than you have. They have had an opportunity to begin a conversation with at least one person, so they appear at ease. All you have to do is find one person to speak with, and you will be just as at home.

Ah, but that's the problem. How do you break into the buzz? Here are a couple of ideas.

First, find the refreshment table or the bar, depending on the time of day the event is being held. Now you are going to make your way over there, but don't make a mad dash with your eye firmly locked on the coffee pot. Instead, walk over in a leisurely way, looking over the people as you go. You may notice someone you know, or someone you have been wanting to meet. If you note where they are standing, you can move in that direction once you have your coffee.

A common mistake of neophyte networkers is to concentrate on picking up food and drink, ignoring the other networkers in the line. Don't do that, as they represent your first opportunity to make a connection. You can make casual conversation about the food, or even just introduce yourself. In either case, by the time you both reach the end of the line you will have someone to converse with as you move off into the room.

When you find yourself alone in a crowded room, practise the art of "hovering". Move towards a small group of people who are having a conversation, but rather than push right into the group, "hover" a yard or so outside the circle. Someone will invariably notice you and invite you in. If someone happens to be speaking at the time, say something like, "Don't let me interrupt your story - it's interesting." When they finish, that's the time to introduce yourself to the rest of the group.

If you use these ideas, you'll find it's not so hard to become part of that happy, noisy crowd.

Helen Wilkie is a professional keynote speaker, workshop leader and author specializing in applied communication, including networking. Her popular "Sowing and Growing Your Network" is a lively, fun session with many more tips, techniques and exercises for active networking, both at the event and after. If you'd like to bring that talk to your conference, give her a call at 416-966-5023. If you'd just like more networking tips for yourself, including Helen's foolproof method for entering the room with confidence, check out http://www.mhwcom.com/pages/ valuefromnetworking.html While you're on the site, sign up for "Communi-keys", Helen's free monthly e-zine full of useful communication tips and techniques.

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