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Savvy small business people keep the conversation engaging. Ways to do that are to come to an event having read local, national and global headlines and be able to discuss at least three newsworthy stories.


When communication coach Susan RoAne wrote her best-selling book How to Work a Room 24 years ago, she gave tips to help entrepreneurs shine in a crowd, such as rehearsing your personal introduction in advance and limiting that intro to seven to nine seconds.

Little has changed since 1988.

"I've written the third edition, and the only thing that's really different is technology," Ms. RoAne says from her home base of San Francisco. "People might be very adept online, but they have to maintain face-to-face skills. You have to reclaim that personal touch in the digital world."

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The need to network is a given for small-business owners. Obvious, too, is that networking can happen anywhere, from sanctioned events to weeknight soccer practices.

But how exactly do you stand out? How do you make people remember you?

To start, there's that rehearsed introduction.

"If you know what you're going to say, you won't be searching for words or stumbling when the time comes," Ms. RoAne says. "The best thing you can do is to help people know who you are and why you're there. Give them context."

Vancouver business coach Sue Clement refers to a distinct introduction as an "audio logo."

"A logo is your visual branding; an audio logo is your verbal branding," says Ms. Clement, who is the founder of Success Coaching.

The fastest way to shut down a conversation, Ms. Clement says, is to identify yourself by your job title.

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"If I say, 'I'm a mortgage broker,' 'I'm a house painter,' or 'I'm an interior designer,' it ends the conversation unless the person happens to be part of the three or five per cent of those who need your services. It's not engaging."

It's better to frame yourself in terms of who you work with and what types of problems you solve, Ms. Clement says.

"People buy solutions," she explains. "Networking isn't about making the sale on the spot but about planting the seed, so that people can refer you next week or next month or whenever they or someone they know happens to need that service."

Instead of saying "I'm a real-estate agent," you could say, "I work with people who are complaining that they're paying too much in rent," she says. Or "I work with young families looking for the house of their dreams."

"That's more memorable. It's kind of intriguing, and it creates dialogue. Describe what you do in a compelling and meaningful way."

From there, it's vital that savvy business people keep the conversation engaging. Ms. RoAne says that as many as 90 per cent of people in a room full of strangers will identify themselves as shy.

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"You need to make it your business to make other people feel comfortable with you," Ms. RoAne says. "When you extend yourself, you become the host. When people are comfortable with you, things mushroom. You need to help people figure out what to talk to you about."

Ways to do that are to come to an event having read local, national and global headlines and be able to discuss at least three newsworthy stories. "Make a reference to something in the public domain," Ms. RoAne suggests.

It also helps to do your homework before an event. Find out who's going to be there, then Google them so you can ask something about themselves. "Everyone's got a blog or a website," she says. "Never walk into a room cold."

Offering help can also go a long way, Ms. Clement says.

"Have an 'ask,'" she says. "To make a connection, have something you want or need. It might be, 'Hey, I'm looking to meet a new Web designer; do you happen to know one?' Then turn it around and see if there's anything they need. 'Is there an introduction I could help you with? Let me know.' You're not doing business but collaborating. You're nurturing and growing relationships."

Before you leave an event, go back to the people you really clicked with one more time. "Say, 'I'm just on my way out; thanks for connecting,'" Ms. Clement says. "Meet with them twice at the same event."

Of course, to keep those connections intact, you'll need business cards. Keep in mind that size matters.

"Don't bring the little tiny cards," Ms. RoAne says. "And use a font that people can read. Make sure the important information is not in a font designed by a 22-year-old. Make sure people can see it."

Following up after an event is just as vital as showing up in the first place.

"Networking is about what happens afterward," Ms. Clement says. "Follow up via e-mails and phone calls. Following up helps you stand out."

Other strategies to shine in a crowd are simple common sense. Ms. RoAne advises minding your manners and showing respect for everyone you meet. Make sure you adhere to the dress code. Face the room and have a smile on your face.

"I know this sounds simplistic, but if you go anywhere please don't look like you have bunion problems," she says. "People will not come over to someone who looks unfriendly and unapproachable."

Don't go hungry and don't bother eating. You can't hand out business cards with a drink in one hand and a mini pizza plus cocktail napkin in the other. If you can't resist the canapés, Ms. RoAne offers this advice: Avoid onions, garlic and poppy seeds.

"If you see someone with a little spinach in their teeth, be the person to whisper in their ear," she says. "They will be so grateful, and they'll definitely remember you."

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