A long, long time ago, I wanted to be in publishing. So as part of a summer program, I got professional training in how to attend a cocktail party. I'm not making this up. At the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures courts, every afternoon we had a little soiree called Sherry Hour, where we drank and chatted, which was excellent practice for being an editor in New York. Guy Kawasaki, on Friday, blogged about the same topic, and nicely done it is.
The fascinating, and frustrating, thing about working a room is that almost everyone thinks they know how to do it, and they're almost all wrong. They think about it as a casual, social event when it's the exact opposite. They focus on the obvious facet of what's going on -- a group of people standing around chatting -- and completely miss the much more strategic, critical stuff that's going on underneath. I was watching the second Matrix movie last night, The Matrix Reloaded, and there was a great monologue in it that made this point beautifully:
Look, see those birds? At some point a program was written to govern them. A program was written to watch over the trees, and the wind, the sunrise, and sunset. There are programs running all over the place. The ones doing their job, doing what they were meant to do, are invisible. You'd never even know they were here.
The thing about effectively working a room is that ilooks easy, and natural, and totally spontaneous. The rules operate invisibly. But they are very real, and unvarying, and that's what Kawasaki's post is about. He reviews a book entitled, well, "How to Work a Room", by Susan RoAne. Kawasaki's post provides ten of RoAne's tips for working a room or an event, and they're worth reviewing. None of this stuff is rocket science, but it is essential. Working a room is all about two things, executing the fundamentals, and remembering a sort of waterd-down version of the Law of Large Numbers.
This law states, basically, the the more you do something, the more pure probability comes into play, and the more your results will hew to the statistically predictable result. If you throw a dice ten times, it's quite possible you will not roll a three. But if you throw one six thousand times, you will roll a three a thousand times, or very close to it, which is exactly what the laws of probability dictate. With a large enough sample size, statistics never fails. Which is why Las Vegas exists.
And what does this have to do with working a room? Simply this: if you are working a room in search of client prospects, the more people you speak with, the greater your chances of finding one. If, statistically, one out of twenty people are a reasonable client prospect, then if you talk with twenty people, you're much more likely to encounter a prospect than if you only talk with five.
Professional salespeople know this. They know that the sheer number of people they meet with is at least as important as your skill at selling. In fact, this has been reduced to another equation, which doesn't have a catchy name. Let's call it the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 rule.
If you're a salesperson, 1/3 of the people you meet with are not going to buy from you, no matter what. They just aren't. 1/3 are, no matter what. They just are. And there's 1/3 who may or may not -- it depends on how good a salesperson you are.
Therefore, just meeting with more people will have at least as much impact on becoming a better salesperson.
The great thing about learning to work a room, though, is that it does both. The reason people either avoid events, or stand in corners mute at them, is apprehension. They're almost always afraid of walking up to people they don't know and striking up a conversation. This is a very human, very irrational reaction.
The best way to deal with it is to prepare. Anxiety typically appears in the absence of facts. By thinking about how to work a room, the entire experience is demystified. It makes sense. It has rules. It's not as scary. So not only are you going to be better at it, but you're actually going to be more likely to do it. And the more you do it, the better you get, which brings the Law of Large Numbers into play even more forcefully. The key is getting it to work for you instead of against you, which will happen if you let it.