Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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How Leaders Work a Room – Be a Rockstar Networker

You’ve seen confident charismatic leaders who change the energy of the room when they walk through the door. The really great ones are masterful at making everyone feel noticed, appreciated, and special. How do they do it? Is this something they are born with? Can we do it? How can we better connect with those around us to create longer-term personal and professional relationships?

First, great leaders strategize when they go to events. They prepare. They don’t waste their time by going to these events unprepared. How do we prepare for an event?

  1. Review the guest or attendee list, if possible. Have a few names and faces in the forefront of your mind so you will recognized them when you see them. Yes, that means looking people up. Search for them on LinkedIn so you have an idea of what they look like.
  2. Look for a common connection on their profile. Did you go to the same school?  Have friends in common? Support the same charities?
  3. Remember a few details about a few people so it is easy to strike up a conversation. You don’t need to commit their entire resume to memory (too many details make you seem like a crazy stalker) but a few facts. “Oh you went to Ohio State!” “I heard you know my friend, David Dye” or “I read your article in Entrepreneur Magazine” goes a long way toward showing interest and creating rapport. 
  4. Be intentional about who you need to meet. That way you can mention who you need to meet and it gives you a way to mingle and move from group to group.

    “I need to give Anna a message. Would you happen to know where she is? Can you direct me to me her?” allows the person you are talking to be helpful to you, which they like, and it helps you find Anna. 

Second, people with charisma approach meeting new people as a necessary but also FUN part of the job. Embrace meeting new people. Yes, I know my introverts are groaning, and yes, I realize that you would rather be home watching a movie with a bowl of popcorn and the dog.  I have those times, too.  Meeting new people helps us learn. We are meant to live in communities. Those new people might have the solution to your problem. The only way to find out is to meet them.

Third, terrific leaders understand that it is more important to be interested in other people than to be interesting yourself. You don’t have to be able to tell a funny story or to be a world traveler to connect well with others. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Remember the answers. Ask follow up questions. People feel cared for when you remember their name, where they are from, and the other details they shared with you. I get to talk with lots of people, and when they tell me about their pets and show me a picture, I work to remember the pets’ names. Somehow it is sometimes easier for me to remember Cooper the Boxer, Hairy Harry the Newfoundland, and Grace the Yorkie than their owners’ names.

Fourth, and this is where lots of people struggle, great leaders follow up afterwards. I recently attended a Speed Networking Chamber of Commerce event. It was really fun, really productive, and really exhausting. We all got to talk with 30 other people in a Speed Dating format. If you don’t have your elevator pitch perfected, this is a really interesting way to clarify what you do. Of all of those 30 people, and I liked them all, only one person followed up with me. She stands out.

It begs the question; why go to an event to exhaust yourself if you aren’t going to follow up later? Yes, it IS like dating. You wonder, does the other person like me? Did we have a connection? Doubts creep in. Follow-up! Send an email, send a note, send an article, send your book, or pick up the phone.

Finally, as you go into a program with new people, go with the attitude of helping others. Yes, we are there to promote our business or our cause, but we have to start first by helping others get what they need. Go. Be helpful. Trust that by helping others you will get what you need as well.


  1. Eric Holloway

    Mary, a very nicely written and well considered article as usual. I think your point on follow through is right on the mark, and applies to so many other things as well.

  2. Jay townsend

    Thank you. Well said. Well written.

    • Mary Kelly

      Thank you, Jay! I hope you are doing well!

  3. Donna Sackett

    Thank you for this article. I am one of “your introverts” and found it not only helpful in giving techniques, but motivational in giving us a little push to get out there make an effort.

    • Mary Kelly

      Hi Donna,
      Most people don’t realize how much of an introvert I am as well. Every time I go to a new event I have a choice – I can either stay in my hotel room and watch financial news or I can clean myself up and head downstairs to meet people. And I DO struggle with that decision because it is SO MUCH easier to stay upstairs. We all need a little push! 😀 Thank you so much for the note!
      Warmly, Mary


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