After a recent speech, an audience member asked me a question I’ve never considered: ‘What’s the difference between ‘approachability’ and ‘working a room’?’
Great point. And I think there’s a MAJOR distinction between the two. Let’s start with the latter.
PICTURE THIS: You’re hanging out by the entrance at a networking event. Your friend standing next to you lightly elbows your shoulder and says, ‘Hey, look at that guy in the blue suit – boy, he’s really working the room tonight!’
How would someone like that make you feel?
For some people, jealous:
Gosh, I wish I could just go up to anyone and start a conversation! If only networking came easy to me, I’d get all kinds of new customers!
For others, annoyed:
I hate when people do that. It’s making the rest of us look bad. It’s embarrassing to even be around someone so flaky and inauthentic.
For me, sympathetic:
Wow. (Shakes head). You know, that’s too bad. Mr. Blue Suit is really blowing his chances of making a positive first impression.
To gain a better understanding of this term, I Googled the phrase ‘working a room’ while writing this article. About 50,000 pages came up. And many of them pointed to Susan Roane’s bestselling book, How To Work A Room: The Ultimate Guide to Savvy Socializing in Person and Online.
Now, I read this book several years ago. And I will say that it’s a great networking resource. But at the same time, I have to disagree:
Nobody should ever have to work a room.
Working a room makes you sound like the politician who shows up at an event for 10 minutes to make an appearance, shake a few hands, kiss a few babies and then cruise out of town on his private jet.
No relationships, just superficial contact.
No helping others, just helping himself.
No quality conversations, just the quantity thereof.
This is NOT what effective networking looks like. Why?
Because people don’t want to feel like they’ve just been ‘worked.’
It pisses them off.
It creates a barrier to communication.
It makes them feel small.
And it makes YOU look like a jerk.
What’s more, people can tell when they are being worked.
So what’s the alternative?
You guessed it: approachability. The authentic magnetization of two people based on friendliness and common ground.
Here’s a quick comparison of the two words to help you understand the difference:
Working a Room
When I first started my career as an author/speaker, I thought ‘working the room’ was the answer. I was even guilty of doing it myself! But after one particular networking event a few years ago, the president of my industry association reminded me, ‘Scott, just relax. Just be yourself. Avoid anything that would give others the impression that you’re working the room. Don’t worry. People will notice. Authenticity is the most magnetic quality of any businessperson.’
He was right. Approachability is about authenticity. It’s about giving yourself away to the other person.
It’s not about how many people you can meet in a half hour.
It’s not about how many business cards you give away or collect.
It’s not about tuning into some radio station called WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?)
It’s about mutually valuable relationships. It’s about asking, ‘What’s in it for US?!’
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
When was the last time you saw someone “work the room?”