Is ‘Work the Room’ and ‘Be Yourself’ bad advice for networkers?

  • 21 March 2019
  • Blog | Career Development | Blog

Strategic Business Networking® specialist, Darryl Howes MSc, examines the networking advice we all receive. And some that we should reject.

Going along to an event and making small talk with a room full of strangers rarely tops our list of fun activities. In addition, there’s a ton of guidance available about how we should behave: the do’s and the don’ts, the musts and must nots. 

But well-intentioned networking advice rarely caters for differing settings, situations and contexts. Furthermore, comments usually lack evidence-based support for the statements offered up as truth.

‘Work the Room’ and ‘Be Yourself’ are just two examples.

You’ve got to ‘Work the Room’

A Google search of this comment yields over 84 million hits.

But what does ‘Work the Room’ really mean? Does it involve handing a business card to everyone present before making a swift exit (the ‘spray and pray’ technique)?

Or do we glide gracefully between conversations suggesting that ‘A’ really should meet with ‘B’ because they have so much in common?

Much depends on the context. Although both offer networking opportunities, we’d behave differently at a business conference compared with a family brunch.

A more strategic approach is to consider why we are attending a networking event. In effect, start with the end in mind. Then ask the question, what might represent success for us on this occasion?

Given the anxieties that networking can provoke, we should plan for an outcome that is stretching, but achievable.

This could mean setting a loose target of say, three worthwhile conversations during the event, with efficient and timely follow up thereafter. There is plenty of good research which suggests that goal-setting works.

Words also matter. The use of ‘must do’, ‘should do’ and ‘got to’ can raise anxiety and be self-defeating. Yes, be up for a challenge; but there’s no need to push ourselves too far too soon.  

The argument here is for us to have our own personalized version of ‘Work the Room’. It’s perfectly ok for this to be unfinished business where we can reflect, learn and build upon past performance.

It’s easy, just ‘Be Yourself’

We hear regular reminders about the power of being authentic in everything we do. We are told be ourselves, be real and people will accept us for who we are.

But who we are might require further investigation. Consider for example our roles as sisters or brothers, mothers or fathers, daughters or sons. In each of these contexts are we really the same person, or is our behaviour determined by what is expected of us?

In this way, being yourself implies a degree of flexibility that is more like Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage’, where we play ‘many parts’.

Re-framing can also help. If networking fills us with dread, we can refer to it as ‘making friends’ or ‘meeting people’. If we are nervous of speaking with new people, we can tell ourselves that we are simply leveraging our passion for communication.

This idea has much in common with the work of Carol Dweck of Stanford University on the topic of fixed and growth mindset. Professor Dweck argues that our beliefs can be self-limiting. A fixed mindset holds that talent alone is responsible for success, whereas in a growth mindset people believe their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.

Intelligence and some talent may also matter, but they are just the start point. The same goes for the development of our networking skills.

Darryl Howes MSc is the CEO of Strategic Business Networking®. He works with individuals, companies and organisations to develop membership engagement and networking and career management skills. Join the SBN LinkedIn Group and follow the SBN YouTube Channel for more tips from Darryl.

Darryl’s webcast for the Chartered Banker Institute ‘Nudge Your Way to a Mentor Network’ can be found here.