What Should You Not Do At a Networking Event?
By Sandy Jones-Kaminski, Author of I'm at a Networking Event--Now What???
You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you - Dale Carnegie
Don't be a business card commando. If you are a compulsive business card collector, please stop it. Handing out your business card to 50 people you talked to for about 30 seconds each not only makes you look self-serving and desperate, it also sends off a clear message that you're most likely going to spam people with your newsletter, resume or webinar invites. This means you and your communications are likely to be considered spam and sent to a place that will get you blacklisted in more ways than one. There was a guy in Chicago who did this at practically every event in town and was on so many blacklists that I'd been warned about him repeatedly weeks before I had even encountered him.
What do you do when you encounter someone like this? If he shoves his card at you, go ahead and accept it so that you'll know to keep an eye out for him in the future, but don't feel like you need to give him a card in return. Just smile and say thank you, but if he asks for a card, and you don't want to give him one because you know nothing about him or how you might be able to collaborate with him, just say, "I'm sorry, but I'm almost out and I have another event to go to"--which at some point you will--so smile and move on.
Don't be a hit-and-run. Make an effort to stay in touch or in occasional contact with folks you meet with whom you want to stay connected. Make notes on the back of the business cards they've given you about what they need help with or what their interests are. Then try to continue to pay attention to things that matter to them. This is the way to create quality connections and trusted new contacts.
For example, after you have followed up with a new acquaintance and are now perhaps linked on LinkedIn, when you notice updates or changes in her status, go ahead and message or e-mail her to comment on the change. It might be congratulations if you notice a new job, name change (perhaps she got married) or maybe a promotion. Or, if you know she's looking for a new opportunity or hinted that she would be soon, it might be to offer a suggestion about a good job board you spotted in her field or to connect her to someone new you have met. And, if you see that a contact is traveling or moving to a new town, offer to connect her to whomever you may have a quality connection with there.
Also, be sure to reach out to people when you don't need anything. Networking is about creating, nurturing and building relationships, and they need care and feeding. The whole idea is about not waiting until you need something to build a network; it's about continually cultivating and engaging in that network. The wider your network, the more people you know whom you've worked with. This also implies that all these people know the kind of person you are and the work you do.
Action: Notice or learn something new about three of your current contacts this week. Look at their personal or company website or online activities to see what they're up to and, if you can offer encouragement or support or a congrats, do so. Be sincere though; don't just go through the motions!
Don't waste your time. Remember, have a goal or goals so you don't waste your precious time and energy. Don't go to a networking event unprepared. Try to research the types of people who will be there, and the format of the event. Also, focus on making connections of quality, not quantity. It's also just as important to disconnect from the unproductive or overly opportunistic and one-sided networking relationships you'll unfortunately come across. And, for the latter, often just by association, you could attract more unwelcome attention or unwanted perceptions.
Don't spend any more time on connections you make when you recognize that there's a suspicious or questionable agenda, or they simply aren't reciprocating or paying it forward. Just move on and, whatever you do, don't take it personally. Today's economy has many people coming from a slightly desperate position, and it's best to just forgive their tactics and practice empathy when you can, but you also don't need to let others take advantage of you. Trust your gut and move on.
Like most folks I know, I'd much rather have someone who's not interested in building a quality connection with me come right out and tell me she wants to meet my brother-in-law (BIL), the head of engineering at Motorola. It's much better than having her stalk my Connections list on LinkedIn, and then try to reach him by dropping my name during a cold call or e mail. My BIL, of course, tells me about it, and then I have that person's eyebrow-raising methods reflected on me ("Nice friends, Sandy," he says). Not to mention that they will now likely have my bad mojo out there on them.
Please don't misunderstand. I recommend being an "open networker," in that you are open to helping people get what they are looking for; they just need to tell you what it is first and at least offer a two-way street if they can. I say be happy to connect with people if they manage to build a relationship through the getting-to-knowyou process. Just don't let people "leverage" your contacts without your permission or take advantage of your generosity by trying to get for free what you actually charge others for.
Action: Identify someone who is better than you at networking, and attend an event with him or her. And if you really want a good mentor (to your wingman), offer to pay his or her way to the event. Then watch the way he or she works the room, and his or her approach. You will learn a lot by watching and listening, and you won't be any different than the other 80 percent of people in the room, who aren't totally confident in their networking skills, either.
About the Author
Sandy Jones-Kaminski is the author of "I'm at a Networking Event--Now What???" which was ranked #1 on the 2010 Inc.com Holiday Gift Guide Wish List and has been a VP of Networking for a major national professional development association. Since 1998, she's been a executive in the human capital resources and services industry and currently shares her hard-earned insights on effective networking and personal branding via webinars, panels, keynotes, one-on-one consulting, her blog and workshops. Sandy has written numerous articles for WomenEntrepreneur and The Salary Reporter on www.PayScale.com and has been featured on Fox Business News, NWJobs, Work Goes Strong, Bankrate.com, You're Hired! and My Global Career. Learn more via her website at www.belladomain.com.