Lessons in how to work the room

Everyone does it, but few do it really well. Networking is more than just attending happy hours making idle chat with a cocktail in hand.

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Everyone does it, but few do it really well. Networking is more than just attending happy hours, making idle chat with a cocktail in hand. Doing it well is a strategy that can pay off in increased revenues and a wider circle of friends and associates. Women, in particular, often feel at a disadvantage when making the rounds in male-dominated business circles. How to make the most of networking opportunities was the focus of a recent discussion among about 40 women, sponsored by the law firm Fulbright and Jaworski.

Rim Atassi Fakhouri, an executive coach with Inside Out Coaching in Dubai, led the session. First and foremost, she says, networking is "like anything else. It makes things easier when you've practised it." Ms Fakhouri tells clients to be clear about what they are trying to get out of attending an event, but she cautions against a strict business development approach. This is not about a sales pitch, she says, or giving new contacts details of the services your company can provide. "You are there to form relationships."

Another key to successful networking is considering that "we all have different doorways to relationships", Ms Fakhouri says. There might be types of people who would normally turn you off, cutting off any chance of a fruitful connection. "Have the guts to approach people with different energies," Ms Fakhouri says. She says you should always bear in mind the sort of signals you are sending, and watch your carriage and speaking style as you begin talking with new contacts. The best bet is to be self-confident without coming across as too fake or aggressive.

Create your own "10-second introduction", a quick name and occupation spiel. "Use simple language and practise your delivery with family and friends," Ms Fakhouri says. At the event, she says, "act quickly before you lose your nerve" and target clusters of people. Introduce yourself first but, Ms Fakhouri says, never interrupt if two people are deep in conversation. Hand out business cards to everyone in the group, even if you are speaking only to one person. "Listen and ask questions," Ms Fakhouri advises. "Don't make it about you; make it about them."

One woman at the discussion said her strategy was to look for the person "who was trapped". You can go into that group and "rescue" that person. "They'll be grateful and then they owe you," she joked. Another thing to keep in mind, the woman says, is what you might be able to do for these new contacts. If they mentioned an upcoming holiday and you have a tip or a travel book to lend, offer to do so.

If they mentioned they are looking for a recommendation for a doctor, and you believe you have a good one, offer to pass on the contact information. Another woman said that if she met someone with whom there was not an immediate professional connection, she mentally filed that person away. "I'm thinking about the greater network," she says. "Then, later, I might meet someone else and I'll remember that first person. I'll say, 'there's someone I need to call'. I like helping and making connections."

Ms Fakhouri says the exit strategy must also be planned. If the conversation comes to a natural pause - she says three seconds is a good marker - wrap it up. Tell them you enjoyed meeting them, turn around, and if you've put yourself in a dense cluster of people you can talk to an entirely new group. One woman asked about how best to deal with men on a professional basis: how friendly should she be?

Ms Fakhouri says she has found that men appreciate assertiveness. "Be a working woman," she says. "Just extend your hand." ashah@thenational.ae