What Not to Do at Networking Events
There are some unwritten rules that new (even experienced!) networkers may violate without even realizing it.
Are you guilty of any of these at networking events?
Don't Sit Down (At Least Not Right Away)
You'll see them in almost any networking venue. Let's call them the "sitters." They arrive at the event and promptly plop their behinds in seats. Barring any physical ailment which might make standing impossible, why do networkers do this?
- They Think They're Special. They could be a bit narcissistic. They act like networking is some kind of restaurant where the servers will bring food and new business connections right to their chairs.
- They're Scared. Actually, this is a more likely cause for the sitting behavior. They're either not prepared or lack confidence. The possibly of approaching people and striking up conversations is just too overwhelming for them.
- They Don't Know What to Do. Some newbies who have never experienced networking are just not sure what's supposed to happen and how they fit into the whole affair.
There are portions of the meeting where sitting will be required and appropriate. Usually, these times will be announced. So until that signal is made, it's on your feet!
What to Do: Stand up for your business!
Don't be Incognito
This is a problem for both newbie networkers and the highly experienced. Newbies may not know they need to wear a name badge so that people can put a face with a name. The old pros at it think everyone knows them so they don't need to wear one. They forget that there may be new people attending for the first time.
This is why some leads groups have official name badges for members that must be worn at EVERY meeting. Some groups even discipline those who habitually forget to bring and wear their badges!
What to Do: Get a professionally printed plastic or metal name badge for yourself and wear it at EVERY networking event or meeting. If the group has an official badge that members must wear, use that one and, if allowed, wear your own in addition. Your own badge that YOU buy will be part of your branding package. TIP: Wear your badge on your right side. Why? Because when people shake your right hand, their eyes will follow your right arm and shoulder up to your face. They'll be able to put YOUR name with YOUR face.
Don't be a Chatterbox
"Just shut up already!" That thought is often running through my head when someone I'm talking to drones on and on and on about Lord knows what. I don't want to be rude, but I'm going to look for any reason to extract myself from this person... stat!
What To Do: Get as many quality conversations into your networking experiences as possible. Circulate throughout the group! (Easier to do when you're standing on your feet instead of sitting, right? See first "Don't" point above.) Reserve the long, in-depth conversations for 1:1 (one-to-one) personal meetings or phone call appointments outside the larger meetings and events.
Before an event, review topics you might want to talk about that are of interest to OTHERS. That will help keep you focused instead of blathering on and on, especially about yourself.
Don't be a Know It All
I love it when someone I just met for 60 seconds has the answer or an opinion (usually negative) on everything.
What to Do: If you do have some insight to share with a networking connection, see if they'd be open to having a conversation with you outside the event or meeting. Don't be offended if they're not. Trust takes time.
Don't be a "Bragasaurus"
Okay, I know that might not be an official term for someone who feels compelled to talk only about himself. But like the dinosaurs this person is named after, he should be extinct in a networking environment.
What to Do: By all means be prepared to talk about your business and how you help people. But being a braggart alienates potential clients and friends. Check your ego at the door.
Don't Forget to Prep Your "Commercial"... in Advance
Most networking events or groups have some sort of activity where you will be asked to tell everyone about you and your business in a very limited period of time, usually 30 to 60 seconds. You may be thinking that's either a long time... or not enough.
To put this in perspective, try being silent for 30 and 60 seconds at a time. It will seem like an eternity! Now try to pack your story in that timeframe. That eternity turns into the blink of an eye.
What to Do: From the days when I had to write some radio commercials, my personal rule of thumb was to keep a 15-second commercial to around 25 to 30 words. Actually, people can talk MUCH faster than that. But limiting it gives enough time to emphasize words and enunciate without getting out of breath. So that breaks down to about 50 to 60 words for 30 seconds and 100 to 120 words for the full 60 seconds.
This requires practice! Write it out. Say it in front of a mirror. Record yourself on a voice memo or recording device and play it back. Yes, play it back! It'll be difficult to listen to yourself at first. But remember that this is what your networking audience is hearing. Make it something they'll want to hear... especially emphasizing how you can serve THEM!
Some people get so nervous about saying their commercials (why you need to practice!) that they forget the most important part: Say your name and company name, at beginning and end if possible!
Don't Arrive Late
Living in Chicago, a city that's usually ranks near the top for heaviest traffic year after year, I know it can be very challenging to get where you're going on time, regardless of how much time you've allotted. But wandering in late to a networking event on a regular basis is distracting for other attendees and you look unprepared and disheveled. Would you want to do business with someone who's always just making it in under the wire?
What to Do: Of course, allow enough time to get to the event so that you can collect yourself when you arrive and enter like you're ready for a command performance on stage... because that's really what you're doing.
Here's something else to consider, especially for those, like me, who live in large metropolitan areas that have heavy traffic. Except for maybe a special event, seriously consider only those networking groups that are a reasonable distance and commute from your office or home. I've encountered people who trek up to 50 miles or more and a couple of hours to get to an event or meeting. This balloons these people's networking time to the point where a single one to two hour event could take all day. Always, ALWAYS, calculate the cost of your networking investment.
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© 2016 Heidi Thorne