“Don’t stand too closely, don’t speak too quietly or too loudly, remember to breathe, choose your words carefully,” etc. If we tried to apply everything we’ve ever read or learned about the psychology of human interaction, we would probably freeze the minute we entered a room full of strangers.
I am sharing these networking missteps tips, gleaned from well-honed, personal experiences to increase your chances of developing those robust business relationships that lead to desired outcomes. And do feel free to share them with anyone you know who might benefit from them.
The most memorable networking gaffe I ever saw ended with a dozen or more business cards floating amid the bubbles and wine glasses in a kitchen sink. They belonged to someone, whom I shall call Brent, I had just met. The gaffe took place at the end of a late evening holiday party. Brent, a newly minted lawyer who was new to the group, spent the evening feverishly distributing his business cards to every guest with whom he had a conversation. Each chose to baptize his card in the aforementioned unceremonious way.
Based on this ill-fated experience, amongst others I’ve experienced, here are my top 10 Networking Missteps to avoid at all costs.
1. RELYING ON SUREFIRE CONVERSATION-KILLERS
Avoid using a joke or a story about you or offering negative or controversial opinions to introduce yourself. It kills a conversation quickly.
2. USING A CELL PHONE IN EARSHOT OF OTHERS
If you really need to answer the phone or make that important call, go the bathroom or to the parking lot where cell phones ought to be relegated. You don’t want to give people the impression that you are either self-absorbed or really don’t care.
3. ENGAGING IN UNNECESSARILY LONG CONVERSATIONS
If the person with whom you’re speaking starts to shift from side to side or begins to look over your shoulder, you know it’s time to move on. Another clue to look for is, if the person asks for your business card, his/her ‘get out of conversation jail card’, just after meeting you, it’s time to run along.
4. CLOSING ON THE SPOT
Pressing the person with whom you’re talking to decide when he/she will use your services will no doubt lead to disaster. Even if the person asks for more information and says he/she is interested in exploring further ideas with you, it is definitely not the time to try and ‘close.’ Follow up later.
5. HAVING A FEW TOO MANY DRINKS
Feeling relaxed and confident sure helps when you’re meeting new people. But if you overdo it with a few too many drinks, beware; trouble lurks ahead. People may indulge you – for a time – but they won’t take you seriously if you’re even slightly inebriated or more animated than usual. Join in the fun with a glass of wine but sip it slowly and occasionally.
6. OFFERING YOUR BUSINESS CARD TOO QUICKLY
Speed networking, the first cousin to speed dating, is one of those potential disasters inherent in the business building process. Avoid it. Take your time to find common ground before you offer your business card. And just don’t throw the other person’s card in your pocket or purse without looking at it and talking about it first.
7. TALKING AND EATING SIMULTANEOUSLY
Try to avoid getting caught with food in your mouth while talking. Take small bites you can quickly chew and swallow before uttering a word. You might even consider not eating anything during the event so you can be fully focused on what is going on around you.
8. HANGING OUT WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Avoid the temptation to find a ‘safe harbour’ among familiar people in unfamiliar surroundings. Remember the purpose of attending a networking event is to meet new people. Your friends and colleagues will understand if you don’t spend time with them.
9. TREATING SERVERS BADLY
It’s wise to treat servers as you would like to be treated if it was you passing the shrimp cocktail. I’ve heard stories of candidates for senior positions being denied a job opportunity because they were rude to servers while lunching with potential employers.
10. BAD MOUTHING THE COMPETITION
Bad-mouthing your competitors while talking with a prospect makes you look badly and could result in losing any chance for business. Speak well of others and avoid creating ill feeling. As my late father said, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
The Language Lab Guest Blogger: Evan Thompson is owner of Evan Thompson and Associates, a marketing communications firm in Toronto. He works with practice professionals and entrepreneurs who wish to deepen their relationships with clients and prospects. He provides website, newsletter, speech, sales presentation and article content and business development coaching.