A scientist’s Christmas party survival guide for people who hate networking

The countdown to Christmas has officially begun and if you hate networking, the next few weeks could be a real struggle.

But now, a study by Loughborough University and Imago Venues has revealed the most and least effective ways to network.

As part of the study, conversation analysts Professor Elizabeth Stokoe and Dr Magnus Hamann observed how people behave and communicate in networking spaces and how their actions were influenced by the environment they were in and the objects that were around them.

Based on the findings, they have identified several research-based tips to enable people to network better:

Know where to place yourself in the room

Christmas party venues come in all shapes and sizes. Some can be large and busy spaces and it can be difficult to know where best to place yourself to network.

Try starting a conversation in the food/drink queue, at a standing table, or a sitting table.

The researchers found that food and drinks queues were easy to join and exit but sitting at a table locked people into a longer chat.

People often moved in pairs from the queue to a standing table to continue the conversation – or moved off in separate directions.

Put your glass on a table

If networking makes you nervous, arrive at the networking area early. Get a drink and place your glass on a standing table.

The visibility of the glass creates an environment for people to interact. It invites others to place their own drinks on the table to create a cluster and they start talking.

Join the conversation

To join a conversation, you need to become part of what Adam Kendon calls an ‘interactional circle’ – a circle of people who are already networking. When people talk, they arrange their bodies so that they have equal access – gaze, hearability – to everyone in the group.

A good way of joining the circle is to position yourself in direct line of sight of the people who you want to interact with.  They are then likely to realign the circle and welcome you in.

The optimal size of an ‘interactional circle’ is 3-4 people before people break off into smaller groups.

It’s not just ‘hello’ which starts a conversation

A great way to start a conversation in the networking spaces is to approach a standing table, armed with a glass or plate and ask the person already at the table:

“Is it okay if I also put my glass down here?”

Once you get the go-ahead, you can assess whether they want to talk more. They’ll indicate this by moving their body towards you and asking you something… or not.

Don’t be a mis-greeter

Don’t say hello to someone and then look over their shoulder for the ‘more important’ people in the room.

One effective thing to do is simply ask: “Which department do you work in?” The one thing that all colleagues have in common is that they come from the same organisation and a place, so start there.

Networking conversations are time-limited

Sometimes we might want to leave a conversation early – while appearing to leave on time.

One advantage of not knowing people at a party is that you can invent a reason to leave a conversation and they’ll be none the wiser.

But the researchers observed that good exits are built from questions that imply the end of the conversation by pointing to future actions, such as: “Do you know where the next part of the entertainment is?”

Elizabeth Stokoe, Professor of Social Interaction at Loughborough University, said: “There is an overwhelming amount of information online about how to network but it isn’t always the best advice.

“The goal of networking is to have a friction-free, seamless, productive conversation that leaves your recipient(s) with a good and memorable first impression and a basis for future interaction.”

Emma Boynton, Head of Sales and Marketing at Imago Venues, said:  “It was important for us to commission this research to help people make the most out of those interactions but, more importantly as a venue, to raise the question of whether organisers and venues can be doing more to better facilitate great networking.

“The findings show that, with relatively minor changes to the networking environment, organisers and venues can really energise their events.”

The full study can be downloaded here

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