How to Work and Confidently Command any Room

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When it comes to professional social gatherings the reality is that people at almost every organizational level experience some form of anxiety, faced with the prospect of meeting new people. The underlying reason is that ultimately, there’s little preparation or training for what’s known professionally as “working a room.”

Hollywood has fuelled the myth of the young, new hire who confidently enters his first after-work reception and within seconds holds the floor in a compelling conversation with the company president. In the real corporate world, this just does not happen; it’s straight from a script. Working a room refers to maximizing networking opportunities at meetings, conferences and social events. This takes time, genuine effort and determination

“My anxiety about this conference defied all reasonable dimensions.”
— Amy Cuddy*, Presence, Little, Brown and Company, 2015

From Working to Commanding…

Fundamentally, ”working the room” is something of a misnomer because the expression really refers to friendly interaction with fellow-attendees at an event. Mastering the skills to work a room is a fundamental Executive Presence skill that carries a positive connotation. Ultimately, the goal is to be sufficiently experienced with these ever-present interactions to confidently command a room. Or simply put, to achieve a comfort level – and the ease, grace, and poise – to speak to anyone, at any event. Far more than working a room, today the ability to command a room is compulsory for everyone with aspirations to senior leadership.

“Owning” the room has a different dynamic, predicated by the event
If the occasion is to honor an esteemed colleague, for example, the event belongs to the honoree and this is not the time to be center-stage and own the room.

Truly successful leaders carry themselves with innate social grace and aptitude at every single event, bar none. From industry-wide networking functions to exclusive, upper echelon affairs, their actions appear effortless and their ability to connect, seamless. It’s often because of these qualities that people begin to speak of their charisma. Unquestionably, circulating is absolutely mandatory, assuming the event is not taking place around a table, either dining or boardroom.

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Yet, sometimes the downside of a crowded calendar and its requisite events results in 
an unconscious lack of enthusiasm for these endless “appearances.” Because consistent behavior is one of the hallmarks of presence, we suggest fine-tuning before every function. A great place to start the process is with a simple question, “Who will be there?”

Consider, for example, an event centered on an important announcement with well-known names and celebrities in attendance. This event category calls for meticulous preparation.

What do you know about the special 
guests? What if you’re asked to make an 
impromptu introduction or say a few 
words? Or perhaps you’ve never before 
met the special guests and will need to introduce yourself, and welcome them. Prepare your notes, rehearse, and then throw your notes away! You’re not making an Oscar acceptance speech. Eye contact is key — with everyone in the room.

When it comes to engagement, part of every leader’s mantle of responsibility is actually remembering names. Make a conscious decision to just try harder. Sounds absurdly optimistic, but concentration actually works!

* Harvard Business School Professor and social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, is known around the world for her 2012 TED talk, the 2nd most viewed talk in TED’s history.

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