If you’re in any kind of business, you’re probably not going to avoid awkward networking situations entirely, no matter how hard you try--at some point, you will get cornered by the one person in the room who just can't resist making a sales pitch. Or have to sit through a presentation that is a s dull as dishwater, whilst wishing you’d had that extra bacon roll.
But what you can do is ensure that you aren't the one making others cringe, and that you're focusing whatever face time you do get on building real relationships. So before you grab that stack of business cards, read these 13 networking don'ts:
1. Don't go to networking events with friends.
Too often, people are intimidated by networking events, so they ask friends to come along. Then they spend the whole event talking to no one but the people they already know. I try to make a point to go to networking events by myself when I can; and as un comfortable as it is. This forces me to branch out and meet new people, and I've made some really amazing connections this way. I may not have done business with them, but they’ve gone on to be good business friends.
2. Don't try to meet everyone in sight…or use it as a place to meet a partner…curate connections instead.
I used to introduce myself to lots of people at networking events, gathering business cards so I could call them later. Then I realised that a brief conversation doesn't really develop a relationship, and calling people you've only met briefly isn't much different from cold calling them. Now, I make sure to spend good quality time with a few people rather than a little time with a lot of people.
At this mornings meeting I overheard two young ‘businessmen’ comment to each other that there wasn’t any ‘interesting women’ in the room and that it was a bit of a waste of time. Oh well chaps…perhaps a nightclub is a better place…or a dating app. Not cool!
3. Don't forget to follow up.
Follow up with the people you connect with. Do something to maintain that connection. Add their contact information to your address book or add them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Whatever it is, do something to keep that connection alive.
I’ve made a habit out of connecting with them on a social level, but also dropping them an email to say it was good to meet them. At the bottom of the email is a link to my website, with an offer of a ‘value driven freebie’ report or PDF. This means it’s not a sales pitch and people can get in touch if they like what they see.
4. Don't waste time with sales-oriented people.
I've learned not to spend too much time networking with people who are solely concerned with selling me on something.
It disturbs me that someone is begging for work at networking events. people buy from people. Get to know them, and let them get to know you. Sales will happen.
5. Don't be a stalker.
I never practice stalker networking, which may be defined as endlessly pursuing contact with someone who has not responded to you. I follow the 3/6 rule of networking: Contact a new person (online, never by phone) three times in a period of six weeks. If you don't hear back, move on to someone more receptive.
6. Don't network.
Networking is completely useless. I would much prefer to get in the trenches with people. That's not networking, that's getting to know what people are made of through action and behaviour, not cocktails and small talk. When I go to a conference, it's because I want a seat at the table there. When I attend an event, it's to learn and teach. I often take time to help people, but I never "network."
Look for events that you will get real value from; you can have coffee with most people at networking events at anytime. You’ll also begin to notice the same people turning up to these events, time and time again.
7. Don't interrupt. Ever.
Think about all the times you've been interrupted. It's not fun. Actively and patiently listening communicates that you respect the other person and are giving them the gift of your attention and presence. People can tell, and they appreciate it.
What’s the saying? “You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.”
8. Don't be intimidated.
Even the most awe-inspiring, powerful, and successful people are just that - people. You probably have a lot to learn from them, but there's sure to be something that they can learn from you, too. Be polite, be respectful, but they are as equal as you.
9. Don't be a card spammer.
It's never a good idea to work a room by handing out your cards or to quickly toss your card to someone who's not asked for it (it will likely get thrown away in that case). It's important to build a rapport with someone before you take the step of offering a card or asking for a further action like a meeting.
10. Don't talk so much.
Don't be overly enthusiastic to talk about yourself and your company. It's almost always better to ask more questions than you're answering.
11. Don't be subtle. Be explicit.
When a lot of people network, they're afraid to step up and accomplish what they want to do or say. As somebody who's sometimes on the other side of that, it's annoying. When people are clear with me and tell me exactly what they want, I always want to help. When somebody's trying to be subtle, it hurts my ability to provide whatever benefit they're looking to achieve in the networking.
Work on your elevator pitch or 30 second introduction and be as crystal clear as you can on what you do; why you do it; how you do it and how successful you are at it.
12. Don't ask to "pick my brain."
The problem with asking, "Can I pick your brain?" is that it's extremely vague and frankly, it doesn't sound all that appealing. If you're going to make a request to someone for their time and look to build a long-term relationship, be specific about what you would like to discuss in your informational meeting, cocktail, or coffee. You'll get a lot more people saying yes to your request.
13. Don't hound the speakers.
The speaker is getting a lot of attention, but many times the people who can and are most willing to help you are not on stage--they are sitting beside you. Don't think the speaker is the only one who can change your life.
And if the speaker stinks…perhaps go offer them a helping hand!