How To Work a Room® | Author / SpeakerHire Susan

The Secrets of Savvy Networking Book Excerpt

Chapter Four
Visibility Value

Being Seen

“Go out! You’ll never meet anyone sitting at home” (or at your desk or in your office). These words of advice, which have a nuance of nagging and sound slightly familiar, are on target. We cannot create a positive presence unless we are present. We can stay in touch by letter phone, fax, or E-mail, but a face-to-face conversation establishes rapport like no other interaction or communication. That is the basis for the most productive relationships.

“Going out” is the first step to creating visibility It is difficult to leave a project, a deadline, piles of urgent files, clients, patients, or customers to attend a professional meeting, community luncheon, or business event. Yes, attending an event with strangers is our number one most uncomfortable situation (public speaking is number two), validated by a USA Today Reader Poll.

As jazz musician Art Blakey said, “If you’re not appearing, you are disappearing.”

I wrote “How to Work a Room” to provide a commonsense guide for savvy socializing. If entering a room full of people, especially strangers, is a source of discomfort, I urge you to read it.

Ten Tips from the Mingling Maven

Magnificent Minglers:

  1. Possess the ability to make others feel comfortable
  2. Appear to be confident and at ease
  3. Have an ability to laugh at themselves (not at others)
  4. Show interest in others; they maintain eye contact, self-disclose, ask questions, and actively listen
  5. Extend themselves to others; they lean into a greeting with a firm handshake and a smile
  6. Convey a sense of energy and enthusiasm-a joie de vivre
  7. Are well-rounded, well-informed, well-intentioned, and well-mannered.
  8. Prepare vignettes or stories of actual occurrences that are interesting, humorous, and appropriate
  9. Introduce people to each other with an infectious enthusiasm (there is no other kind) that motivates conversation between the introducees
  10. Convey respect and genuinely like people-the core of communicating

If we are more comfortable at events, and we can be, we develop a positive presence that is memorable.

On the Scene

There are three arenas in which visibility contributes to professional viability:

  • Intra-company (Phase I)
  • Professional Associations (Phase II)
  • Community Organizations (Phase III)


Whether you commute to an office or telecommute, it is important to stay visible, according to career consultant James Challenger. And according to Paul Stern, multinational corporate CEO, “It is useful to belong to a network within a company… which consists of people with whom you trade information.” Being seen allows one to have the casual conversation that is the cornerstone of relationships.

Can You “Spare” One Strike Against You?

Yes, I mean the bowling team! A former Fighting Illini of my acquaintance bowls on a division team for his Fortune 500 company Nothing interferes with his Tuesday nights at the alley The camaraderie that develops off-duty during shared activities makes the workplace more enjoyable. It allows us to have a network of coworkers from other departments or divisions in the company which increases our information base and effectiveness ratings.

It is not enough to just do a job well; people have to know who we are. James Challenger suggests that we keep tabs on special office events and attend the functions.

The Company Picnic: It Can Be One!

A three-legged race may not be your idea of a good time, but the willingness to be in one, and to have fun doing so, contributes to your visibility and being perceived as a good sport. If everyone is tied in a sack, there is no loss of dignity if you are similarly accessorized.

Talk to everyone: coworkers, spouses, and kids. The weather; always a concern at a picnic, is a good place to start. And favorite foods, favorite activity, the location of the picnic, its accessibility and setting, are also good conversation starters.

Sign up to be on a committee that makes you a “host” and visible. We were all taught good host skills — to see to other people’s comfort. In case the picnic in the preserves is driving everyone buggy carry a can of Bug-Off and offer the unprotected a shpritz.* That will make you memorable! (* See glossary)

Treat the spouses as the interesting individuals they are. Anything less could come back to haunt you. In the nineties, most spouses have their own jobs, careers, businesses, or community volunteer work, or all of these. Some are even men!

I gave a speech on “How to Work a Room” for two hundred spouses of CEOs of mid-sized banks. One woman shared her experience: “My husband’s senior vice president treats me as though I am of no consequence. Who does he think has the boss’s ear when we drive to visit our son in college or enjoy a quiet supper at home? What a fool! Which I have mentioned to my husband at several timely intervals.”

Kid Conversation

At casual company events, offspring are often included, and structured games, contests, and activities are offered for them. Talk to the kids of your coworkers, colleagues, and superiors. They go to school, have favorite subjects, sports, activities, interests, homework, and projects. If shown interest, they will respond. Ignoring kids makes a negative statement; paying attention to them makes a positive one, which may hold you in good stead.


Maximize on Memberships

It takes more than membership dues to be visible in your professional associations. Writing a check and filling out the information card will get you on the roster That is not enough, and does not contribute to your network of contacts.

You could cold-call other members or send a mailer but if people don’t know you, it’s a crapshoot. However; if you attend a percentage of meetings, work the cocktail hour, sign up on a committee, or volunteer for a special project, you will become better known.

We often hear of incidents where people did not do as they said they would, when they said they would. And such behavior makes for indelible memories. You have to do a thorough, timely effective job, especially as a volunteer

It serves no purpose to volunteer for a committee, or run for an office, and then do a poor job. It is far better to understand that volunteer work for any organization requires our best. If we do not demonstrate excellence and commitment, we can expect to be nixed for any possible job referrals from our committee cohorts. People do talk and don’t recommend known screwups. We all know that, but it bears repeating.

RoAne’s Remedial Rules

Always do your best whether for pay or for intrinsic rewards. The opportunity to meet people on committees is an excellent one. “Consider every contact to be the beginning of a long-term relationship, because things do change and it helps to be remembered well,” advises Jim Cathcart, speaker and author of Relationship Selling.

Pick a committee and project in an area of interest. If the fund-raiser interests you, do it. If you have no desire, skill, or interest in writing, don’t volunteer for the newsletter committee. If you like dealing with hacks and flacks, sign up on the public relations committee.

Resume Add-ons

A position in a professional organization is an excellent way to add to your resume, especially if the position is one that utilizes skills and experiences that are different from those used in your job.

Once you have successfully implemented these programs and utilized your skills, they are marketable. When I joined the National Speakers Association, I signed up to be on the publicity committee. I had demonstrated my public relations skills early in my business when I wrote for the San Francisco Examiner Business Careers Series. My participation on that committee enabled me to refine and expand those skills.

Even though I have since hired a public relations professional for my speaking engagements and books, I still like doing it. So I volunteered to be on the publicity committee for the “Race for the Cure,” sponsored by the Susan Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. It feels good to contribute skills, which I refined in my professional organization, for a worthy cause that I support.

Never Know Whom You’ll Run Into (Dangling Participle Apologies)

Being visible in our professional organizations requires a thoughtful image assessment. RoAne’s Law: The worse you look running into the market for a carton of milk, the more important to your career is the person whom you did not want to see you looking that bad. In the supermarket, the hardware store, or on the running track, we are cut some slack. But not at the monthly meeting of the Association of Image Consultants.

How we dress, accessorize, and behave speaks volumes. Our business cards project our image, and our demeanor determines how we are perceived. “Acting appropriately” is the phrase that is the guidepost for getting along in situations. How we act at a ballet is different than at a baseball game. Some people have a clear understanding of situational differences of being appropriate, and others have none. It has to do with the manner in which we present and carry ourselves, what we communicate, and how we do so. And that manner we project can serve to enhance us in our networks, or to sever us from them.

The Challenge of Change

As positions change, moving from manager to executive, so do the associations and organizations to be joined. According to Paul Stem, “People at a higher level will join… Conference Board or National Chamber of Commerce. At the national level there are certain industry-wide clubs which are key to networking such as the Electrical Manufacturers Club… members refrain from talking about business except in general terms. It’s ideal for senior executives in the industry to establish relationships with each other.”

We do have to move on and to change in our affiliations as our positions and careers change. It may be uncomfortable to do so but it is necessary (see chapter 13).

How to Be a Chamber Made

Again, it is not enough to be just a dues-paying member Granted, a listing in the Chamber of Commerce directory affords one visibility but that visibility is exponentially increased by the presence of you or your employees on the various volunteer committees. Each chamber has numerous volunteer opportunities. For smaller businesses and sole proprietorships, being involved ensures visibility.

Several of the people who served on the Education Committee with me nine years ago are now on the board of directors; one was president last year. They worked their way up through chamber channels and they worked hard and well to achieve visibility.

Lemon Suckers Are Just That

Practice the Ten Tips from the Mingling Maven. Be a person whom people want to be around.

Woody Allen said it best: “Eighty percent of life is just showing up.” Take a risk-go! But wherever you go to be visible, always go with an agenda: that of having a good time. People are attracted to people who are having fun, and that’s the truth.

When was the last time you attended a professional luncheon, spotted a member in the corner frowning, and thought, “That’s someone I’d like to get to know”? The answer most likely is never. People are open to a person whose face, posture, and eyes invite communication. The stance that is open and relaxed, the face with a smile, a head slightly tilted, reflect approachability.


Creating a Community Presence

Each one of us has issues that are near and dear to our hearts. Involvement in those areas feels good to us because we are doing our share to make a difference. In my first life I was a teacher. While the monetary rewards were minimal (nobody ever chooses teaching for the money), the intrinsic rewards were incalculable.

There were many times that mutiny or murder felt like viable options, but then there was the day that one student finally understood long division (or algorithms, or use of quotation marks, or how to play a bar in a minor key). There is nothing like seeing that magical light turn on and the glow illuminate the face of the student who finally “got it.”

Serving our community interests is an opportunity to do lust that. We are afforded the opportunity to meet people with whom we already share a common bond, to work side by side for a reward that is not monetary.

Meet By-products

There are numerous nonprofit agencies that are looking for knowledgeable, talented people willing to commit their time, energy and expertise.

We can serve on boards, participate in projects, or attend sponsored events. The by-product is that we meet people, gain visibility and increase our networks, resources, and business. It happens informally when people know who we are and what we do, and are comfortable with our capabilities.

My buddy Landy Eng had asked me to join the board of the Career Resource Development Center, which has provided career, language, and job training for over twenty-five years. Two weeks earlier, Carl LaMell, my business “boss,” suggested that I get involved in a nonprofit agency “Susan, you are a home-based entrepreneur and writer, two very solitary endeavors. You need to be part of a group with formal meetings, subcommittee projects, and places that you have to be that have nothing to do with your speaking or writing.” For two years I worked with a cross section of talented, bright, energetic men and women on the CRDC board. I learned a lot and had a chance to share my ideas and support with an agency that is doing good works. But I relearned that structured meetings are not my forte. I was reminded of being in school as a child, being forced to sit in my seat and be quiet, and not to chat with my classmates. And later, as a teacher, being forced to sit in faculty meetings, to be quiet and not to chat with my colleagues. Striking similarities! Leopards, including this one, do not change their spots, unless we decide to endure physical, emotional or psychological dermabrasion.

Meet By-products and Hire Authority

The University of Illinois Foundation’s National Leadership Network has a San Francisco Bay Area chapter. Serving on it has been interesting because we are all Fighting Illini and, yet, are a diverse group. One of our alumni, Con Hewitt, the local managing partner of Ernst & Young, called and said, “Susan, we want you to give a speech on your book How to Work a Room. And, by the way, I want about one hundred copies of it.” Did Con want to see a press kit? No. References? No. A video? No. He knew me and after working with me knew I would do my best. That’s all he needed.

Attending our annual Women Entrepreneur awards breakfast is always special. Last year I met two staff members for the March of Dimes, which piqued my interest, having been on the first Mothers’ March in the fifties. They asked me to chair an event: a “Jail and Bail” fund-raiser What fun! And a lot of work.

I went through my card file and called our San Francisco deputy chief of investigations, Frank Reed. He sent me a sample warrant so that we could mimic the language of arrests to appear “authentic.” The day of the event, our supportive “prisoners” were whisked away to a luncheon. And there I met two women, sitting at different tables, who have since become my good friends. One Saturday night I danced at one’s wedding, and hope to do the same for the other soon.

Your community has numerous agencies that rely on volunteer assistance. Community involvement contributes to our visibility, which can help us make business, make sense, and make friends! So go out and volunteer.

As we gain visibility and become more politically savvy we can start “managing our markers.”


  • Before joining organizations, read their brochures, reports, and newsletters.
  • Attend two meetings before you join, to see if it’s a fit.
  • Know why you have joined and how that membership fits into your professional plans or personal preference.
  • Introduce yourself to officers, staff, and other members of the association or organization.
  • Join committees, be active.
  • Attend special events.
  • Work rooms.
  • Write articles for the newsletter/journal.
  • Give presentations in your area of expertise to the organization.
  • Join the board of a community agency.
  • Perform at your best as a volunteer
  • Let people know what you do, but know that is incidental.
  • Above all, have a good time; bring along your light-hearted laughter and you will be a standout!


The Secrets of Savvy Networking Book Excerpt