Networking. And why you’re doing it wrong.

I meet a lot of people on a daily basis. Friends. Acquaintances. Potential business partners. Potential clients. People who are willing to do some interesting projects with me. People who I met somewhere on one of the networking events I attend regularly.
I meet them on the street, in supermarkets, at parties, at seminars, at trainings or workshops, while commuting or while buying my coffee at my favorite coffee shop…

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Meeting people is great. Meeting new people is exciting and provides you with a lot of opportunities, both in personal and career life. But you all know that and you don’t need another truism from me 😉

Nowadays, everyone talks a lot about networking. I also mentioned about some pros of networking some time back.

Looks like everyone knows what networking is and how to do it. There are tons of pieces of advice on how to DO the networking. Which is great.

So… why so many people are doing it wrong?

I’ve collected for you some of my thoughts around mistakes people do while networking. Read them on if you wish to excel your networking skills – yes, these can be excelled! And actually should be 🙂

1. You don’t maintain eye contact.
Regardless if you know the person you’re talking to or not, you should maintain eye contact and here’s why: your interlocutor might think you’re not interested in what they are saying. They’ll lose will in maintaining the conversation with you. The worst thing you can do is to continuosly look around the place and people while talking to someone. You are definitely showing lack of respect to your interlocutor. Don’t expect them to be willing to talk to you again in the future.
Because, yep, it does look nasty.

2. You don’t listen.
When asking a question, do listen to the answer because it might look like you’re asking for the sake of asking. Your interlocutor will get that quickly, so don’t delude yourself 😉 And by listen I mean active listening: feed back what you hear, ask more specific questions about things that get your attention. Just be yourself, don’t pretend you are listening. Fake will soon become obvious.

3. You don’t stop talking about yourself.
It’s wonderful that you do all those amazing projects and want the whole world to know about them. BUT. Don’t exaggerate. Talking about yourself for more than 10 minutes will not bring you anything positive. Remember that some people will have only 3 minutes to spend with you. Use these 3 minutes wisely. Make sure you share things about yourself but also get to know as many details as possible about your interlocutor.

4. You start your conversation with: “Hi, my name is X, I do this, I do that…”.
Show you are interested in getting to know the person you’ve approached. Ask them how they are doing and what they do, what kind of projects they are involved in, ask about any holiday plans, whatever it is to make them talk about themselves. Only then, start sharing information about yourself. Relate to what they have said. You might be surprised how many things in common you might have with each of your interlocutors. This is good for small talks!

5. You are just the same as the other 30 people in the room.
There is nothing special in what you are saying to people you meet. “Hey, so what are you involved in? Oh, ok. I work in marketing but actually I want to quit my job and start my own business. Still don’t know what I could be doing though. Here’s my business card. Maybe you could give me yours? Thanks. Bye!” <– That’s the worst networking “pick up line” ever! Don’t go this path.
Why? First of all, people will never remember you. Secondly, you didn’t say anything specific about yourself. You were NOT interesting. You were actually BORING. Just another “brick in the wall”. You didn’t offer anything. You didn’t mention what you might eventually need from your interlocutor. They will definitely forget about you soon. And they are right!

6. You don’t offer anything. You don’t ask for help.
What do you think networking events are for? Let’s not be hypocrites here. They are made for people who offer and seek business help. If you are looking for something specific, say it! You might be surprised how many people can easily help you finding the right way to solve your problem. But don’t be pretentious. First, offer YOUR help. See what you can do for your interlocutor. Only then you may ask for help from them. No worries, if they are good at networking, they will ask YOU about what they can do for you first.

7. You don’t follow up.
You put the business cards deep in the drawer and never get back to them. Neither to the people you’ve met.
Did you promise to send that report or give someone a call? Remember to do it. Always follow up.
Networking is not only about meeting new people, it’s also about maintaing the relationship with them. Did you meet someone interesting? Did you meet someone you might be willing to work or cooperate with? Maintain the contact with them. Drop a friendly note from time to time. Invite them to the events you or your contacts organize. Send them a link to the information that might interest them. Be thoughtful. Come by and say hi if you see them somewhere again. Make sure they don’t forget you.

8. You want to have too many irons in the fire.
Let’s be clear: you will never make it to meet EVERYONE. And then again, why should you? Choose the contacts that are most valuable to you (you may, for instance, check beforehand who is attending the event) and focus on 3-4 persons rather than the whole bunch that will be of no value to you when you come back home. Having 30 business cards in your pocket in the evening? Awesome. Do you even remember those folks? Did you establish any personal contact with any of them? I thought so…
Remember… less is more.

Any other “weird” practices you have noted? Feel free to share. I’ll be happy to discuss. Networking is one of my favorite topics 😉

Photo credit: Flickr user sebas

And here’s the condensed version from SlideShare:

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