Training Focus: the open and closed guide to ice-breaking

Training Focus: the open and closed guide to ice-breakingWhether you are a trainee or senior partner, when you represent your firm at a business event, the idea of walking into a room full of strangers is generally a very scary experience.

One fear that everyone has is that of the unknown, but this need not be the case when it comes to networking – all you need to do is familiarise yourself with four basic scenarios. The point being, there will never be more than four groups in a room, and once you can identify them working the room should be a piece of cake.

The single personThis person stands by the wall because they know no one and do not know how to break the ice. They are literally praying for someone to talk to. Approach slowly, smile, shake hands firmly and make good eye contact. Exchange names and listen carefully for their name – that way you’ll hear it.

What next? Think what you have in common and start asking questions. “Where have you come from?” is a safe generic question, eliciting either a geographical or company name reply.

The conversation will eventually come to its natural end. Do not just leave with some excuse, but offer your partner an option to come for a drink or to introduce them to someone else. It is likely that they will not come along with you as you will have both stopped asking each other questions – a sure sign you both want out.

If they do start to follow you about, suggest you go and join other (open) groups and go ‘hunting in pairs’. You can then leave them in that group and make your escape politely.

CouplesAt group gatherings couples stand in either ‘open’ format or ‘closed’ format facing each other. Body language tells you when people are in closed formats – they are having a private and confidential, even intimate, conversation. It might be business or social – who knows? What they have done is put an invisible barrier around themselves.

Where you know someone in closed-format couples, that’s fine, but do be aware that you may be interrupting something important when you approach them.

ThreesomesAgain, threesomes stand in an open or closed format. The former is generally a semi-circle, the latter a triangle.

When you approach open trios, and open couples, ensure that you smile, look at each group member and ask permission to join in.

When it is a business event, remember that they want to meet you just as much as you want to meet them. The chances of rejection are slight.

Groups of four or moreGroups of four or more are the big challenge for most people – whether it is approaching, entering or leaving them. However, if you know someone in the group, quietly ask if you can join. If it is someone you know well, they will create a space, introductions are made and often a new group is formed.

As a general rule, the easiest and friendliest type of group is one with a mix of men and women. If you find talking to your own gender easier, then do that and aim to talk to people of your own age. After all, these are the people you will be networking with for many years to come.

All rooms are made up of these groupings. Survey the room first and you will feel more comfortable in the future.

Will Kintish is a consultant on effective and confident networking