Why You Don’t Want To Work The Room

A couple of days ago someone wanted to give me some feedback about the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce breakfast event that morning.

I’m President of the Chamber, so I always want to hear what people have to say. The main point from this guy was that he didn’t feel that there was enough time for networking at these events.

In case you haven’t been to one of our breakfasts, the format is that everyone comes in at 7:45, has coffee and pastries and circulates and chats for about 30 minutes, then we sit down and have breakfast. After breakfast there’s a speaker for about 15 – 20 minutes, usually someone who is talking about their own business journey and passing on some ideas and inspiration. By 9:30, we close the meeting and some people go off to work, and some people hang on and have a bit more chat.

Mr Feedback’s problem was that he didn’t get to meet enough people. What he wanted to do was meet as many people as possible, see if they wanted to buy anything from him, and if not, then move on to the next person. This is called working the room.

My experience

For me, this is a real misconception about networking. I had been at the same breakfast that morning, and I’d spoken to Peter, Rosie, Toby, Rebecca, Rebecca’s friend, Robert and Mark. I’d said hello to about half a dozen more people, and I’d been able to get hold of the guy that Rebecca wanted to speak to and send him over to her.

For me, this is plenty enough people for one event. I want to be able to have in depth conversations with people, and to say hi (therefore reminding them of my existence) to others. I don’t know if there will be any direct business benefit to me from going to particular breakfast, but I know that I learnt some interesting things from the talk, found out something new about Robert which might be of use to one of my clients, and that I had fun. Again, that’s plenty, and well worth the twelve quid.

The risk of working the room

If you work the room, your desire to separate the wheat from the chaff means that you risk offending the people you discard. Those people are not going to want to be your friends. Very few of us sell anything the first time we meet someone, especially if you sell services (this doubles if you sell complex services). So if someone doesn’t want to buy right now, make sure that you establish a good relationship with them, because they might want to buy later.

And of course, they might not want to ever buy from you, but you want them to remember you and like you, because you want them to recommend you to their aunt’s boyfriend’s best friend, who does want to buy whatever you’re selling.

Don’t be a doggie

The other risk with working the room is that you can look needy. You’re like a doggie, sniffing each person to see who is going to give you the money. And no one is going to trust you or buy anything if you appear to be desperate. Don’t be tempted to work the room – networking is a long term game, with big potential results. Some of the people who have done me the biggest favours in business have been people who I’ve known for years, and who are very unlikely themselves to be my clients, but I’ve got to know them and they’ve been incredibly helpful, recommending potential clients, setting up speaking opportunities (where I do meet potential clients) and media opportunities. You only need a handful of great people like this to make the difference.