How to Work a Room

Are you a host or a guest?

How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections, by Susan RoAne, has sold more than a million copies worldwide since it was first published in 1988. No doubt countless former wallflowers have become more engaged at business and social events during that 25-year span as a result of reading the book. In the 25th-anniversary edition, RoAne writes about the importance of social-networking platforms and other online outlets as “new rooms to work.” But “these rooms,” she writes, “have not eliminated the need for basic social skills. The need to meet, mingle, make contacts, and make conversation is even more important in this twenty-first century’s Internet-working world because we have lost some of our face-to-face communication skills.”

Here is one tip that RoAne says readers over the years have told her has been especially helpful:

Dr. Adele Scheele, author of Skills for Success, says that people in a social or networking situation tend to behave either as “hosts” or “guests.” The hosts exhibit gracious manners — meeting people, starting conversations, introducing others, and making sure that their needs are met. Hosts are concerned with the comfort of others and actively contribute to that comfort.

Guest behavior is just the opposite. Guests wait for someone to take their coats, offer them a drink, and introduce them around the room. Often, the wait is interminable. If no one performs these services for them, guests move to the corners of the room and stand there until someone rescues them. They may be suffering the agonies of shyness, but other people interpret their behavior as standoffishness.

Dr. Scheele suggests that the key to success is moving from guest behavior to host behavior. This has been identified as the most valuable “tip” from my audiences and readers, whether they were CEOs, engineers, entrepreneurs, or hedge-fund managers.

Michael Carroll, vice president of Alliance Management at UnitedHealth Group, personifies the good host. I’ve watched him in the hospitality suites at several different events. Michael graciously welcomes guests, their spouses, and children. He keeps his eye on the room, pays attention to those on the periphery, and approaches each person. He is not only a catalyst of conversation, but he also brings people into the group conversation and helps them connect with other guests.

What exactly do hosts do? Basically, the host’s job is to extend himself or herself to the guests and make them feel comfortable.

In myriad presentations, attendees have said the most memorable trait of a host is the person who introduces us to others — matchmakers of sorts.

How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections – in Person and Online, 25th Anniversary Edition, by Susan RoAne,© 2014 Susan RoAne. Reprinted courtesy of William Morris, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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