How to Work the Room

Don’t be overwhelmed by a networking event full of strangers. This is your chance to create new business relationships. Here are some tips to kickoff our "Ringside With Michael" series on breaking the ice and making the right connections.

January 9, 2013

OK, you’ve made it to the event. Now what? Approaching complete strangers is a daunting task for many — especially when you’re an agent or broker and find that some become guarded when you mention what you do. There’s no sure thing when meeting new people because everyone is so different and we all tend to have our own agendas. Even you.

Networking is all about meeting people, getting to know them, and potentially helping them. That’s it! When looking to “work the room,” always refer back to the definition (or at least my definition) of networking: learning about and helping others.

When your objective is to learn something about other people — whether it is culture, trends, upcoming conferences, product information, related articles and publications, or further contacts — you can’t lose. Helping someone in your target market is even better. Givers always gain and favors get returned, especially when the appropriate time comes to ask for them.

Remember, you’re looking to start a relationship. Choose your attitude before arriving at the meeting. Be genuine and have fun.

Get the Conversation Rolling

Repeat after me: It’s all about them. Confidently introduce yourself and ask a series of general questions to learn more about your contact’s work, goals, and initiatives. Here are some of my favorite questions to ask people to break the ice and, more important, to get to know them.

  • How did you learn of this meeting/event? (If it’s not obvious.)
  • Have you been here before? If yes, what brought you back?
  • Do you know a lot of people here? (If so, who?)
  • What kind of work do you do? (Again, if it’s not obvious.)
  • What company do you work for?
  • How long have you been at it?
  • Do you like what you do?
  • What is it about your work you like most? Least?
  • What are you looking for here?
  • Do you have a target market? (If so, great! If not, why not?)
  • How do you market your business?
  • What does a perfect prospect look like for you? Why?
  • What do you do for fun? (Sports, kids, vacation, hobbies, etc.)
  • What can I do to help you? (If I like them!)

That’s my short list in no particular order. I pick and choose as appropriate and as the conversation flows. Notice how all of these questions are focused on the other person? As in, it’s all about them.

The Next Step

If there’s a good connection or the person you meet is any kind of networker, they should be asking you the same questions right back. Remember, this will almost always begin as a superficial conversation. If there is a connection, then great! If not, that’s fine, too. After a few minutes, just say, “It was nice to meet you. Let me know if I can help you with anything at the event today; otherwise, good luck and hope to see you soon.” And that’s it. Never be rude, off-putting, or curt with anyone. Keep in mind that most people (even agents and brokers) are not very good at talking to strangers. (After all, didn’t mom tell you not to do that?)

If there is a good connection and the conversation is collaborative, briefly give an overview of what you do and how you help others (if you’re asked). For instance, I would say, “I’m a seminar leader, speaker, and consultant focused on helping real estate agents create more business through networking.” Hopefully they’ll ask questions that are as good as yours!

If there is a good connection and you think you can help one another, then exchange cards and commit to following up. Put some notes on the back of the business card you collected, shake hands, and say your good-byes. If you’re really brave, ask for an introduction to someone they know at the event that you want to know or offer to do the same. Believe it or not, all this should take place in no more than six to eight minutes (without looking at your watch).

What upcoming event will you attend to try this approach and practice your networking? Grab your calendar, phone a friend, go to Google, press the buttons, and schedule it now!

Michael Goldberg teaches agents how to generate more business through high impact, “knock-out” networking strategies. Author of the book Knock-Out Networking!, Goldberg delivers real world approaches to networking and referral marketing that can be applied immediately. He is also an adjunct instructor at Rutgers University and donates time to speak at networking groups focused on job searches. Learn more about Goldberg at