Don’t be that guy.
You know, the one who is handing out business cards like candy — or the one who is downing cocktails at the bar.
Networking events are no cakewalk, but there is some consensus about you shouldn’t be doing. Local experts Carol Bowser, founder of Conflict Management Strategies, and Rachael Costner, founder of the networking group Women’s Resource, helped us compile this a list of what NOT to do at networking events.
- Don’t get drunk. It seems obvious but it still happens. “If it’s a business event, you want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward,” explained Bowser. “You wouldn’t show up to a job interview drunk. Networking is no different.” If you’re going to have a drink, limit yourself to one.
- Don’t do all the talking. “Don’t make the conversation completely about yourself. That’s really kind of boring,” said Bowser. “The purpose of networking is to be able to gather and share information with people with similar interests or in similar industries.” The DO here is: listen.
- Don’t always try to sell. So, be a resource. “Some people just jump right in and tell you the benefits of their product before you know who they are,” explained Costner. “What I don’t like are people who force their product on me or assume they know what I want.”
- Don’t go in with a closed mind. “If you’re open to listening, you (might) know someone who knows someone that needs that product or service,” said Costner. “Just because they don’t seem to be a qualified buyer of your services or products, it doesn’t mean they don’t know someone. As I often say, ‘I know someone… who knows someone… who knows someone.’”
- Don’t go without a purpose in mind. “If you don’t have a purpose in mind, how you are going to guide the conversation? How will you know what to talk about? How are you going to know if it was a successful event for you?” explained Bowser. “Just ask the question, why am I there? Is it that I need to increase connections outside my specific workplace? Is it that I’m looking to possibly find a mentor? What are you trying to achieve? What are you trying to get out of it?”
- Don’t forget your business cards and don’t pass them like candy. “You don’t want to be rude,” said Costner. “Don’t be so aggressive with your business cards. Don’t hand your business cards to people until you‘ve made some sort of connection.”
- Don’t be afraid to give a firm handshake. “I think a firm handshake shows confidence. It shows that you’re comfortable in business environments,” said Bowser. “If you’re carrying too many cocktails or too many snacks, it can inhibit you from giving a good handshake.”
- Don’t forget to network. Don’t limit yourself to talking with the group you came with. “I’ve found that this happens I think more with women than with men. They’ll agree to go together and they’ll stay glued at the hip,” said Bowser. So, she suggests coming in with a goal. “Make targeted connections — five to seven in a 30-minute period — versus a speed racer just trying to collect as many business cards as you can.”
- Don’t forget to follow up. “Don’t forget to follow up with a contact within the week,” said Costner. “Don’t ignore phone calls and emails from people you meet. This gives you the opportunity to extend the relationship further, or let them know it’s not right for you right now. It’s also an opportunity to see if you have any more business you can do together — or in the future.
For Costner, networking is no different than any other marketing or branding effort.
“You need to build report and credibility. Networking is about building relationships and that takes time,” she explained. “All the do’s (of networking) are about building relationships. It’s about building trust. All these things take time.”
So, don’t try to make up for lost time by throwing your card at every face you see. Don’t look for an out by piling your plate or grabbing some extra drinks. Be professional and be intentional. If you’re mindful about why you’re going to an event that will help guide your connections and conversations.