I have two friends, Jason Smiles and Frank Assured, who are both great guys worth knowing. When it comes to building social relationships, they have contrasting styles. Whether they think about it or not, they attract people in different ways–both men and women. I’d say they break down about like this:
Jason quickly connects with people, whereas Frank usually takes five or more meetings to get close enough to someone to consider them a friend, or even a connection. Just last night, when Jason entered the bar where were meeting a larger group of friends (15 or so), everyone smiled, looked his way, and greeted him. The same was true for Frank, though only half that many approached him to say hello. I do want to reiterate that both people are interesting, intelligent people who bring a lot to the party. It’s not like Jason’s the former high school quarterback and Frank is a wet blanket. Actually, Jason’s kind of nerdy and Frank is an ex-college football player. Regardless, they have different styles.
Smiling is the biggest part of the difference. When you enter a room and smile, you look like you’re together, you’re fun, and you’re somebody. You’re worth talking to. Because I believe “professional networking” is really about building personal/social connections between people in a work or pseudo-work environment, I think this approach is worth mastering whether you’re going to a bar with friends or your first meeting with a new client.
If your goal is to meet new people, like at a networking or work event, the first thing you should do when you walk into a busy room is slow down. Most people prefer to be going somewhere directly, either right to their seat, straight to the bar, or over to the people the know. But it sends the signal that you’re timid or uncertain–that you aren’t comfortable being alone–even if you aren’t. So instead of making a bee-line, stop, smile, and look the whole room over once or twice. Next time you’re in a large room situation, notice how most people naturally look at/toward the main entrance from time to time. When you enter, stop there for a five or ten count and use strong body language and a smile. You’ll look like someone to know, and your networking/socializing attempts will be twice as easy from the start.