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How To Work a Room®: Strategies of a Former Shy Person

From Quiet to Quite a Mingling Maven®

“I was always quiet and often felt shy at events, meetings and even parties”, said Rosa Baez-Lopez,then Vice-President of Human Resources at Clearbrook, a Chicago-land social services agency.
“I started as the receptionist for another agency and was working with Carl LaMell, the new bookkeeper, who always encouraged me. At community events and fundraisers, I’d watch him approach, greet and talk to all people regardless of their titles. He was a mentor, a teacher and most importantly, an amazing role model. I adapted his style and ways of working a room by being friendly, respectful and open. Because he always had a smile on his face and laughed as he talked to people, he always looked like he was having fun!”
“By the time he was named CEO, I was no longer the “quiet, sometimes shy” Rosa.

While her skills help the 960 employees who serve the 7000 special needs clients in 160 Chicago area communities, Rosa’s ability and comfort in working a room (mingling, if you will) has been valuable to her career. “That ability or skill has served me well as my career grew from receptionist to personnel manager to today —as VP of Human Resources. In fact, it’s been helpful in my personal life as well!”

According to social science research on shyness, about 90% of American adults self-identify as shy and about 40% of us claim to be introverts. And that’s across the board….and boardrooms, classrooms, associations and professions. Why that’s important to note: Most of the people you’ll meet at any conference, party or meeting will also feel uncomfortable. If you do, you are definitely not alone!

Working a Room is NOT Networking

Many people mistakenly dub the process of socializing in business (or mingling) as networking. Because they’re uncomfortable at the prospect of talking to people they don’t know, they denigrate “networking”; thereby missing the opportunity to meet, converse and connect with a variety of people at any gathering. whether we’re shy or self-identify as an introvert, we benefit from knowing how to work a room

The proof that they are different skills: there are people in our professional lives— and our personal lives— who are wonderful, even natural, networkers: they follow-up, share leads, give job referrals, offer advice and ideas, introduce us to others, call when they say they will and do what they say they’ll do. But the thought of walking into a roomful of people, especially people they don’t know, is daunting!

On the other hand, there are people who are fabulous socializers but just don’t— or won’t —follow-up, connect or stay in touch. They may know how to work a room but they are lousy networkers. We benefit both personally and professionally from having both skills.

The Gift of Comfort and Connection

Something special occurs because we’re face-to-face in the same room —whether it’s in the meeting room, the hotel lobby at an industry summit or convention, a local event or a neighbor’s birthday barbecue party or baseball game. Every one of us has a story of something unplanned that happened because we sent in a RSVP and showed up. Some call that serendipity. In New Orleans, it’s called lagniappe — that something extra that is a result —even a reward— because we were present and met someone we wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Mark Shambo was the marketing director of a Chicago accounting firm when he was conducting a training course for accountants on his team. The team spent hours and many company dollars going to events only to return with nothing of significance to show for the investment of time and money. “They needed to learn how to work a room. I googled the phrase and found the book and then I attended Susan’s presentation in Chicago.
At the presentation I met someone who introduced me to someone else who introduced me to a CFO Networking Club and that has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue. The relationships I’ve forged with other members are strong, have stood the test of time, and have been professionally and personally rewarding.”

What Do Leaders Do That Is Noticeable and Notable?

In the Silver Anniversary edition of How To Work a Room, there’s a quote from an article in Fortune stating that “high-profile leaders know how to work a room.” So should we all.

Here’s how:
• According to Dr. David Schwartz in the classic, The Magic of Thinking Big, “leaders lean into conversations and extend their hand for a handshake”. By doing so, they welcome and include others. And they set the tone for the event, the company or the conference.
• They make themselves approachable like Woody Morcutt did when he was CEO of Dana Corporation, a $7 billion dollar company. At a reception before my keynote presentation, attended by his division presidents, vice presidents and their spouses, Woody wore a Looney Tunes tie! When I asked him about his unusual choice of ties, he explained, “It’s precisely because I’m CEO of a $7 billion dollar multinational corporation that I wear this fun tie. I want my senior executives and their spouses to feel comfortable approaching me. And this tie will do that.”
• Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, has a dazzling collection of brooches and always wears one so that she gives people— many of whom were heads of state— something to talk about and allows them to feel they’ve started the conversation.
• Whether it’s a tie, a pin, a scarf or a big smile, wearing one makes us approachable.
• Leaders (and Mingling Mavens®) also include the spouses and guests (and offspring) of their employees and colleagues in conversations. It’s surprising how many people have say they have been virtually ignored at events when they have attended as the spouse or
guest. It’s a foolish mistake that can be easily avoided.

Be The Host: Make Others Comfortable

One way we can make ourselves comfortable in any face-to-face situation may seem counterintuitive: Refocus on making others comfortable with you. It works. Being gracious and welcoming at every event is a transferable skill.

Dr. Adele Scheele, acclaimed Los Angeles-based career strategist, Huffington Post contributor and author of the classic best-seller, Skills For Success, suggests that at meetings, parties, conferences or events, we always “act like a host.” Hosts make others feel welcome and comfortable by approaching and greeting them with a few pleasantries. People respond in-kind and then conversation flows.

Hosts also introduce people to each other even if they’ve just met them. They give enough information to spark interest and use a tone that is enthusiastic so that we WANT to continue the conversation. Why are those conversations so important? “Because everything good in life begins with talking with each other one to one,” wrote Daniel Pink, in his New York Times best-seller: To Sell Is Human. His premise: we are all selling even if our job is not in sales.

The Dining Dilemma

When the event is a luncheon or dinner set with rounds of 8-10 people, Baez has a plan for managing those situations. Others who are committed to meeting and getting to know new people, find a table with people they doesn’t know and joins them. It’s an easy way to expand knowledge and contacts.
Because of nature of the social service agency, Rosa Baez often finds herself sitting with supporters, partners and donors.
“I make sure I direct conversation to each and every person at my table. I also act as an unofficial table host and always suggest that we go around the table and introduce ourselves. That gives people information and sets the tone for conversation. My table companions appreciate the opportunity to meet everyone at the table.”

The 5 Ps (Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

The easiest way to manage the mingling and benefit from working a room is to be prepared:
1.Plan a conversational self-introduction. Knowing how we’re going to introduce ourselves in a business or social gathering abates some of the “events with strangers” stress. You need a pleasantry that is 7-9 seconds and keyed to the event so that you give others a context for your attendance. That will help them converse with you.
Instead of giving your job title, executive speech coach based in San Francisco and Las Vegas, Patricia Fripp, suggests that you give the benefit of what you do. That invites the other person to ask the first question and feel they started the exchange.
Rosa Baez finds it’s easier to meet someone who’s standing alone rather than approach two people. The Stand Alones often are more receptive because standing alone in a crowd is often uncomfortable.

2. Think of 3-5 conversation starters and topics just in case there is a lull. The newspapers, content curators and news sites, industry blogs are full of interesting items worthy of a conversation. It could be an item about weather, sports, entertainment, science and technology, the newest government regulation or the best new sushi restaurant or the most helpful app for nearby parking. Start with small talk; it’s the warm-up act for “big talk”.

3. Have an attitude alteration. Go everywhere with this thought, “I’m going to meet interesting people, make great contacts and have a good time in the process. And you will!

Meeting and connecting with people— both within your field and in other professions—builds extraordinary networks for both your professional and personal lives.

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Susan RoAne, is a sought-after VIRTUAL and convention kickoff speaker, emcee and facilitator who has even been an auctioneer. Her presentations set the tone for interaction, communication and connection as she gets her audiences up on their feet…meeting, mingling and conversing.
She is the author of the classic best-seller How To Work a Room, The Secrets of Savvy Networking, What Do I Say Next? et al who has presented to Fortune 20-500 companies, associations and universities worldwide.

Questions? Contact susan@susanroane.com

Facing Face- To- Face (
How can we make the most of both small and large group situations? Much like the answer to the classic question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice, practice, practice.

A Post-Pandemic Gameplan To Work Any Room:

• Do Due Diligence and Prepare. Check out websites, google or industry blogs for information as well as the names of sponsors, members, speakers, and attendees.
• Prepare a 7-9 second self-introduction that is an engaging pleasantry and link it to the event at hand. It gives others context for your presence.
• Read the news….whether online, in print or on your wristwatch that includes both local and national coverage as well as industry and trade journals so that you can be knowledgeable and conversant.
• Prepare 3-5 items for conversation in case you get stuck for subjects of interest.
• Embrace small talk as a way to get to know people and start a conversation.
LISTEN intently rather then thinking of what to say next.
• Leave your smart phones, Bluetooth™,earbuds, and gizmos and gadgets out of sight.
• Give people something to talk about: a pin, a fun/interesting tie, a scarf or hat.
• Bring your best manners with you to every event.
• Approach those alone or in groups of three or more who sound and look like they are having a good time.
• Exit conversations graciously. “It’s been so interesting talking to you about ____ (fill in a phrase that shows you were listening).” Excuse yourself and walk ¼ of the room away to a group or person standing alone. Another option: bring the person with you to meet another attendee.
• Be the good host who is warm, welcoming, interested and who introduces people to each other.
• Go everywhere to have a good time…and you will!

“Rinse and Repeat”

About Susan RoAne

Susan RoAne leads a double life as a sought-after professional keynote speaker and a bestselling author. Known as The Mingling Maven®, she gives diverse audiences the required tools, techniques and strategies they need to connect and communicate in today’s global business world. The San Francisco Chronicle says she has a “dynamite sense of humor.” To hire Susan to speak for your company, association or college, susan@susanroane.com. 1.415.461.3915