By Bunmi Sofola
In her book: How to shine in a crowd, Susan Roane gives the following strategies to help you work the room when you find yourself alone in a huge crowd, where no face looks familiar.
The entrance: There is no such thing as being “fashionably late” for a meeting. Arrival is based on the start of the event, not making a conspicuous entrance. Take a deep breath, stand tall and walk in. If you stand in the doorway, people think you’re scared. Give the room a quick once-ever. Check out the bar, the food, where most people are congregating. “One man I know who has difficulty talking to people always position himself between the door and the … Buffet, “says Susan. “Everyone has to walk by him to get to the food and he is always surrounded by people.”
First contact: Look around for people you know. If you see someone who looks even vaguely familiar, go and introduce yourself. Only two things can happen—either you’ll be right and renew an acquaintance, or you’ll meet someone new to chat to.
Use your friends: One of the main advantages of going to an event with a friend is that you can introduce one another around the room. You will know people he or she doesn’t and vice versa. Give people enough information about your friend and be positive. If neither of you know anyone, split up and start chatting until you do.
Get Moving: If you are on your own and don’t recognize anyone, do not be tempted to melt into the wall. Look out for what Susan calls the “hard knuckle drinker.” They are clutching their cup or glass so tightly that their knuckles are really hard. They’re scared to death and they’re always alone. They will usually welcome your conversation because it salves them from anonymity.
Opening lines: Don’t hang around waiting to make the perfect opening gambit. Even if what you say isn’t going to bring the house down, do not lose the chance to start a conversation. The best opener may just be a smile and the word ‘Hello,’ other areas for easy comment are the event, the food, the organization, the traffic, even the weather. Avoid negative comments such as “the food looks pathetic,” because people will think you are a whiner. If you start with a question, make it relevant. “How long have you worked with the company for instance.” If you start with a statement about yourself, make sure it is positive.
Breaking in: There is a difference between including yourself in other people’s conversation and intruding. It requires boldness but sensitivity. Avoid approaching two people who look as if they are having an intense conversation, approach groups of three or more. Position yourself across to the group. Give only facial reaction to remarks being made. When you are included, either by verbal acknowledgment or eye contact, feel free to join in.
Staying Power: Even people who make wonderful self-introduction can be caught by the next step; what to say next. The best way to build up knowledge is to read at least one newspaper a day. You don’t have to be an expert on everything, but you will be well read enough to contribute to conversations.
Pay Attention: A good talker will not necessarily be a good listener. It means more than just concentrating and responding.