We’ve all done it. We’ve gone to a networking event to rub elbows with prospective clients. When it comes time to sit down for the meal, we know we will be spending at least an hour with the people to our left and right at the table. This is more time than we will spend with anyone else, and we want them to be worthwhile contacts, in other words, prospective clients. But there are a lot of hangers on in attendance, all trying to get the coveted seats next to these same clients. If we leave it to chance, there is a strong probability that instead of a prospective client we will be sitting with hangers on.
So, we go through an awkward dance. We walk into the banquet room and up to a half-filled table. We try to look as if we were passing by on our way to another table, a table where we belong, and just happened to stop here for a moment to reorient ourselves. When a tall woman approaches the table, we do-se-do left to get to a position where we can get a glance at each others’ nametags before committing ourselves to sitting together. Her tag revealing that she isn’t a suitable partner, we allemande right around the table trying to find one. Round we go, shaking hands, looking for a partner. Everyone smiles and nods, the nods designed to get a closer look at our tag. We see a promising seat between two well-groomed men and circle a little faster to get it. Before we can, a woman we recognize as being from one of the companies we have targeted, steps forward and takes it. So, we sashay back to the left, round we go again. In the end we take a chance and ask, “Is anyone sitting here?” “No. Join us,” says the gray-haired man with a frozen grin. Honoring our new partner with a slight bow, we take our seat. He introduces himself, and we learn that he works for a competitor. Too late. Politeness dictates that we make the best of it. It’s not an effective way to get a seat. It’s certainly not dignified. There must be a better way. And, yes rainmakers have found some.
Here is what three of them do:
The Instant Dignitary
My colleague, Gary Pines, is more effective at working a room than anyone else I know. At big events there is often a reserved table for dignitaries. These include the top people in the organization and major speakers, people well worth knowing. Gary says, “Often there are extra seats at these tables, either because someone didn’t show up or maybe it’s just a big table.” So, Gary asks if there is an extra seat, because he would like to sit there. He cautions, “About half the time I’m told no.”
The Happy Coincidence
A young strategy consultant told me this story about the biggest rainmaker in her firm, whom I will call Alan: “There was a person Alan wanted to meet. Somehow he learned that the guy always went to meetings of [a specific association]. So Alan signed up for the next meeting and asked me to come with him. During the cocktail reception, he asked someone to point out the guy he wanted to meet. That’s how he learned what the man looked like. Then he led me over to a corridor that everyone would have to walk down to get to the banquet hall He picked a spot and said, “Stand here and talk with me,” and I did, keeping up a one-sided conversation, while he watched people go by. When the guy he wanted to meet passed, Alan turned and followed him to his table. He asked if he could sit there, as if he had arrived there by coincidence. They spent two hours together, and a few months later, the man became a client.”
The Small Favor
When one of the most prominent executive recruiters, one who has helped many corporate boards select new CEOs and presidents, is invited to a social, charity or cultural event, he calls his host and asks who else will be coming. Then he asks his host a small favor, to seat him next to the specific person he most wants to spend time with. I have this information from both a social friend who has recieved one of these calls and from a former colleague. He always does this. Always.
So I ask you, why take just any old seat, when a little effort would get you a good one.