Some networkers can’t seem to see the forest for the trees. When I lived in LA I used to attend networking groups galore. From the local chamber of commerce to large scale international groups like BNI, I was a complete pro at the nametag tango. I had my elevator pitch down to perfection – that 30 second sound bite explaining exactly what you do and why it’s important – ready at any given moment to “make an impression”.
Having a background in multiple industries including hospitality, education, insurance and showbiz meant that for a while there I couldn’t seem to escape these things. Every day there seemed to be a different networking breakfast, happy hour business mixer or industry party –sometimes all in the same day. Everyone showed up showered and shaved, ready to explain why they were better than everyone else at doing whatever job they did for whatever company they worked for. But as we would all stand there, guns loaded with large amounts of ego and the kind of nervous energy that comes when working out of your element, one thing became clear: some people shouldn’t be networking.
We can all learn new tricks, but being in a state of perpetual beta when it comes to social skill is an excellent way to ruin your business.
After several months of daily invitations, the other day I finally broke down and joined LinkedIn. It was one of those things that I had often advised my clients to invest time in as a social networking must, but somehow I had strategically avoided it.
As I started to go through my email address book – bridging my past to my present contacts, briefly reflecting on where and when we met – I began to realize that there is so much more to networking than just showing up. All things were never equal. Sure, I could take for granted that there would be food and drink at these things, probably some sort of registration list and sometimes, the dreaded name badge. But the one thing that always surprised me about networking was how bad most people are at it.
I decided to touch base with some all-star contacts of mine (these folks seem to have this networking thing down to a science) and ask them to break down the biggest mistakes most people make. They had a lot to say.
1. Learn to play Tetris
Since I am writing this, I thought I would go first. One of my personal pet peeves is when I see individuals try to network who don’t seem to be able to put the “people pieces” together. For me, these kinds of networkers feel like a waste of my valuable time. The two main reasons why I have always been a good networker are that I find people fascinating and I love to play Tetris. You know that game where you have to fit all the pieces exactly where they go in order to make it to the next level? Business is just like Tetris. I enjoy people’s stories, the way their minds work and how they communicate their dreams. This is why I love my work as a creative business consultant – I get to listen to strengths and weaknesses and help find solutions to problems, to fill in what’s missing. That is the key to networking just as much as it is to business development. If you get to know what people can do well and what they need to expand their business, then you can introduce them to the people, concepts, products or services that might make their lives and businesses better.
2. Shut up and listen
It’s not about talking about yourself, although the other person should be interested in learning about you. You need to reciprocate and be both a contributor and receiver when meeting someone. People are better at answering questions about themselves than they are at asking questions about other people. It’s not a balanced conversation a lot of the time. When Joe (or Jane) walks into a room and only talks about Joe, it tells people he wants them to know him but that he’s not interested in knowing them. It also tells them that he is not a good person to partner with. A lack of curiosity is bad for business!
Marisa Rybar is a multilingual web marketing and product communications strategist specializing in customer relationship retention and international business development.
3. Drop your agenda
My pet peeve is a selfish networker who is not open about their goals. This person is often the life of the party – wanting everyone to focus on them. They take every opportunity to redirect the conversation to their accomplishments and needs and can sometimes be master manipulators – knowing how to seem sincere when in reality they have a hidden agenda. Successful networking requires open communication, patience, empathetic listening and selflessness. Selflessness is a priority; the focus should be on helping another achieve their goal. If this is reciprocated, everyone wins.
Joey Alleyne is a professional networker and visionary behind Connect 2 Collaborate specializing in creating business solutions for non-profits while increasing community collaborations.
4. Fix your body language
At a recent networking event, I was floored by an individual who butted into a conversation someone was having with me, proceeded to talk over the other individual and then displayed body language that was dismissive. In a circle with three individuals, they positioned themselves with their shoulder and a bit of their back angled toward the person I was originally talking to, with one step in front of them. It was a physical block. I was so taken aback that at first I just giggled, totally amazed that I was actually witnessing this happen. Then I brought it to the guy’s attention that it was completely uncool and suggested he allow the man I was originally speaking with to finish his conversation with me. My main pet peeve around networking situations boils down to individuals who lack good emotional intelligence.
Joy Nordenstrom teaches relationship communication skills to individuals throughout the world, specializing in giving her clients the ability to make a good first and lasting impression.
5. Harassment ≠ follow-up
As a person who has many vendors vying for my company’s business, the most frustrating thing I see comes when people do not understand boundaries. When I meet someone new I get to know the services they provide, and then keep them in mind for the future. But if the vendor continually spams me via e-mail or telephone, checking in and trying to set up lunch dates, it always seems like foreshadowing of the future work relationship: OVERBEARING. It’s exhausting! Occasional follow-up is just fine, but we are all busy and only have so much time in the day. If I have upcoming projects and I want to use their services, I will reach out. My advice is to treat networking as if you were asking someone to dance. When you ask someone to dance, they either say yes, no, or maybe. If they say yes, you dance. If they say no or maybe, simply back away. If you’ve left a good impression, they WILL come to you.
Laura Halasa is currently the events manager for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. With over 10 years of events experience, she travels the world planning and executing events for consumers, retail, and press.