If you want to go places in this world, networking is absolutely a skill you need to learn.
Take it from me, my career was relatively ho-hum until I began attending conferences regularly. While traversing countless expo halls in heels and making small talk over spaghetti squash in the banquet hall, my networking skills have helped my career skyrocket. When first starting out as the founder of marketing agency Red Branch Media, I didn't have very many clients. But as I began regularly attending events and social functions, people starting taking notice. Through word of mouth, I was able to gain more customers, increase revenue and improve my reputation.
While networking can open up doors for you, it can also close doors if done incorrectly.
Here are nine mishaps to avoid.
1. Drinking too much. Every corporate event has that person. Rather intoxicated, loud and slightly less than polite for a business setting. Business etiquette has no room for buzzed business people. Indeed, 14 percent of HR professionals believe it is never appropriate to drink during work-related activities. Drinking too much can leave a bad impression and worse, make you incapable of signing those deals that have to happen face to face. Leave the serious drinking to off-business hours.
Related: How to Make Networking Suck Less
2. Being a card shark. Don't be the person who goes around meeting everyone and telling everyone at the conference just how great their business is and snags cards in the process. This is a bad practice because you only really intend to stay in touch with some folks. Don’t sully your own name and make them feel bad by taking a card you have no intention of using. Once you take a card, follow up. Every time.
3. Having cold body language. Networking thrives on tone of voice and body language. Facial expressions and eye contact are paramount but arm movement and stance are just as important. Don’t stand in such a way as to block people out from a conversation. Crossed arms signify boredom, and even if those heels are killing you, shifting from one foot to the other makes people think you are antsy (or need to use the restroom).
4. Interrupting. Be patient when waiting to talk to a group of people. A group of three or more can be daunting but stand back and let social cues take the reins. It is a good idea to stand just within eyesight. Once there is a break in the group’s conversation, they will notice. Simply ask to chat later.
5. Not listening. No healthy relationship is one sided. Don’t dominate the conversation. Be present in the conversation, not the selling points. There is no harm in providing the company boilerplate, but don’t get carried away and monopolize the conversation. The best salespeople know that selling happens when you shut up.
Related: Business Card Do's and Don'ts
6. Being a pushy salesperson. Networking is a way to meet new colleagues, not necessarily new clients. Don’t always use it as a way to sell. View networking as a way to be a resource for others and maybe gain a few clients along the way. But remember, that’s not the main goal. Many industries are tightly knit groups and over the course of your career, you will see movement. Wait for the right moment.
7. Constantly talking about your business or yourself. No one, and I mean no one, wants to have a conversation just about you. Keep business cards put away until a meaningful conversation sparks interest. Not everyone is going to want a business card. (Some business chat is fine.) Asking questions or presenting the group with an anonymous issue you’re working through are great ways to talk shop without turning people off.
8. Being lazy. Just as candidates should follow up after an interview, following up after a new network connection is just as important. Although you may come home exhausted post-conference, that’s no excuse to leave your new connections hanging. A simple message on LinkedIn or a short email are easy ways to spark a conversation after a conference, ensuring you take your connection to a deeper level.
9. Not being prepared. Never let networking be an afterthought. I prepare for conferences and in-person networking events as much as I do when I am speaking. Come up with a networking strategy that includes a quick intro, an elevator pitch and three solid questions you can adapt to any industry or conversation For instance, “How is your company planning to handle the changes in Google search?" or “What’s your favorite productivity tool?"
Networking has been invaluable to my career, but you get out as much as you put into it. So put a lot into it.