Both you and I know that people learn better from being taught what to do instead of what not to do. Here’s the thing though…a while back, at a local Chamber networking event, I experienced firsthand so many things NOT to do while networking that it just surprised me that folks don’t know any better.

Hello, my name isIt was such an awkward and uncomfortable experience, that even now, I can’t help but remember it. So you don’t rub folks the wrong way at your next in-person even, here are some things that you probably shouldn’t when you’re out and about networking.

  • Don’t give a weakass handshake. This is especially true if you’re a guy. I mean how am I supposed to take you seriously as a businessman if I can’t take you seriously as a man. Own that hand shake. And ladies, you’re so not off the hook here. None of thiswimpy girlie girl shaking. Reach in, clasp the hand, give a gentlesqueeze and shake. It let’s the other person know that you’re present and involved in the interaction, no matter how brief or fleeting it might be. It’s not that difficult. And trust me, it will make a difference in the connections you make.
  • Do not just walk up to a person and shove your business card at them. Worse yet, don’t interrupt a conversation just to push in with your card. Any way you slice it, it’s just rude. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger in the grocery store and just shove your card in their hand. Why would you think it’s okay to do it at a professional event? I don’t know about you, but I do business with someone I’ve had the chance to know, not some random rude guy that came up behind me while I was sitting at a table talking to someone, reached over me to say “I sell computers” while waving his flier in my face. And yes, he did walk away as soon as this interaction was done.
  • On a related note, don’t enter into a group conversation, tell everyone what you do and not ask everyone else what they do. It’s networking baby, not preschool – believe it or not, it’s NOT all about you. So even if you might be exactly what I’m looking for in an event planner, you never even tried to get to know me, so why would I trust you to listen to my wants and needs when it’s time to plan that event? Or why would I pass along your info to my friends and colleagues?
  • And lastly – and this one is a doozy – DON’T BE SHY! This is not the time to sit down at the table and chow down on the food (unless you’re chatting up folks in the process). This isn’t the time to lean against the wall. More than likely, someone won’t come up to you to initiate a conversation if you’re trying so hard to not be seen or involved. Seriously, just walk up to a small group of people (or if you’re really shy, then just approach someone else that might be standing alone), smile and suggest that they “please, carry on” with their conversation. When they reach a natural stopping point, they will turn to you and introduce themselves. Many times, they’ll stop right then and there and bring you into their conversation.

And just because I can’t leave things on a negative note, how about a couple of Networking Do’s:

  • Have a plan. Why are you going to this particular networking event? Is it to check out the organization (like a Chamber of Commerce or professional organization)? Is it to meet other people in your industry and build your network or circle of friends? Is it to get more clients or customers? Is it to build your mailing list? Is it to meet a mentor or build your team? Is it to mingle and socialize? Knowing why you’re going makes it easier to make the most of your time (and investment) or to relax.
  • Bring plenty of business cards. In fact, bring more than you think you’ll need. You never know, you could be on fire at that event and connecting with people left and right. Or better still, someone you meet may immediately know of others who would benefit from meeting you. For what it’s worth, ocassionally you do run out of cards (or like some people I know well…ahemme…you forget to pack a stash before leaving the house). For times like that, I try to also keep at least a couple of extra cards in my wallet as well and just smile and ask for their card…then follow up!
  • Don’t use this time to visit with folks that you already know. This is time to meet some new people and make some new connections. By all means, say hello to your friends, plan lunch, go out for drinks before or after, but don’t spend all 2-3 hours catching up. My suggestion, if you meet someone you do click with, introduce them to your friends. You can get a couple of moments to catch up then.
  • Don’t stay in one place too long. Again, it’s all about the mingle. Spend a few minutes talking with someone (longer if there’s a group), then shake their hand again telling them that it was a pleasure to meet them and move on. If you’ve really connected, then be sure to get their business card and shoot them an email suggesting coffee, drinks or lunch one day soon. You’d be surprised where this one-on-one time in a casual setting can take you. Personally, I love the coffee or lunch date (for lack of a better word) after a networking event. The most amazing things often happen.

It’s all about taking a moment to get to know someone personally. It’s not just about what you do, but also about what they do. Or more to the point, the connections you can make. I know in my case, I’m all about taking the people I meet and then introducing them to my friends and colleagues that I think could benefit from their services. In that case, it’s best to come from this whole thing from a place of how can I help you?Again, you’ll be amazed at the people you meet and the connections you make when you change up your perspective.

Try some of these tips out at your next networking event and let me know how it works for.

Good luck and happy networking!

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Photo: Daniel Lobo