Despite the digitally dominated era we find ourselves in, networking opportunities are available in abundance.
It seems there is something to suit every personality type: informal coffee mornings, black tie evenings, seminars and workshops, formal business lunches, presentation and awards evenings, and even speed-networking.
However, so many people are still unsure about how to ‘actually network’.
How do you act? How do you dress? How many business cards to hand out? How do you know if you’ve done a good job?
Being a member of the Chamber, you’ll already be aware of the value in networking and all that can be achieved. You’re likely an experienced and adept networker, for which this post will add more laughs than value. Regardless, let’s take a light-hearted look at 10 things you should never, ever do at a networking event.
Often, people are mistaken in seeing a networking event as an opportunity to switch on the sales pitch. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Experienced networkers are tuned in to the hard sellers, and will avoid them like the plague. People view this as ‘aggressive networking’ and it can be very off-putting. You’ll know this if you’ve ever been on the end of a hard-seller!
The purpose of networking is to slowly and gently sow your seeds. Nurturing valuable relationships could eventually result in referrals, introductions and in turn, sales. The slow and steady approach is far more successful, and a sincere person is more appealing and comfortable to be around, so you’ll attract more connections this way.
You know who you want or need to speak to, you’ve viewed their Linkedin profile and you’ve read up on their business. But the best thing you can do once you get to the event is to keep that information to yourself. While background reading before the event is recommended, a blatant attempt to ingratiate yourself with potential partners can appear contrived and off-putting. And by focusing too much on attracting the attention of one individual, you might miss other opportunities in the process.
3) Add everyone you meet to your newsletter list
In light of GDPR, we should already know this is a big no-no. Exchanging of business cards no longer qualifies as consent to be added to your newsletter list. If you wish to make contact with an individual after the event, legitimate interest dictates that it is within reasonable expectation to follow up with a personal email (which might include a link to your newsletter subscription, where they can consensually subscribe), or phone call. But try to make any follow up contact appear natural and personalised rather than automated and robotic. This is the next step in nurturing that connection, so consider how you can add value and refer to the this in the email/phone call.
You will likely meet a blend of personalities, and some of us are naturally more introverted than others. These quiet personalities may still have important things to say, so always keep the floor open to others. Avoid dominating and interrupting others, or using their discourse as a springboard for your own. Rather, genuinely listen to what others have to say, ask appropriate questions and invite others into the conversation. People like to speak about themselves, and they’ll feel good in your company if you let them do so, rather than interjecting at any opportunity. Consider how you can provide value to others. You might be able to refer a supplier, introduce a contact to a business connection of your own, or offer a discount that helps a new startup on their way.
5) Dress inappropriately
If you’re unsure of dress code, ask ahead. However, if you opt for something smart, clean and pressed (along the lines of something you might wear to a job interview) you can’t go far wrong. Dressing inappropriately can give off a bad first impression. You’ll want to avoid appearing sloppy, messy or unprofessional, and a professional outfit is one way to do this. Plus, when you dress well, you feel better. Wear something you feel comfortable and confident in, and you’ll come across more confident and comfortable when you interact with others.
6) Have too much to drink
Some events offer free alcohol or an open bar, and while one or two drinks might help you relax, avoid overdoing it. Be wary of your limits - especially if you’re drinking on an empty stomach. Most people tend to forgo the free wine as they might be driving or with senior colleagues, and sober people will be quick to spot (and avoid) a drunk. This is a professional setting, so treat it as such.
7) Act disinterested (even if you are!)
Feign interest even if you aren’t all that interested. If it appears that you are bored or disinterested, it can be mistaken for rudeness or arrogance. Plus, you never know, that boring subject/contact might well become important to you in the future. So listen up and pay attention. Think of it this way, if someone were talking about GDPR three years ago you might’ve wandered off elsewhere in your mind, but that person would have come in handy a few months ago!
8) Be late
Tardiness is highly unprofessional and you don’t want to be remembered as the person who showed up late. In addition, you could miss valuable networking time while people mingle and gather before the event starts. Our advice is to get there early and show your enthusiasm, punctuality and reliability.
9) Get too personal
It goes without saying, business networking is not to be mistaken with speed-dating. While we don’t see this much at Bedfordshire Chamber events, it’s worth a mention.
While a few phone numbers might be acquired during the process, this doesn’t permit you to cross the professional boundary.
Coming across ‘too friendly’ can be extremely harmful to a reputation, and inappropriate or overly-personal behaviour is not tolerated in professional networks. Plus, people will likely let others know of your ulterior motives and avoid you in the future. Keep the dating life separate and consider this strictly professional.
10) Job hunt
Using networking opportunities as a blatant attempt to job search is a common mistake. It can appear inappropriate and make others feel uncomfortable.
Of course, this time can be used to ask relevant and carefully phrased questions that might point you in the right direction and help build valuable relationships, but keeping quiet about the job hunt is probably a good idea for now. Remember, we are all connected somewhere along the line, and that’s not the type of information you want getting back to your boss.
Clearly, these behaviours aren’t very often seen at Chamber events, but we often see these common mishaps on the ‘don’ts’ section of networking blogs from all over the world. As the saying goes, ‘reap what you sow’. Selfless behaviour will be more beneficial to you in the long run, as you will be remembered for your altruism and likely rewarded with reciprocated behaviour.
Above all, a focus on being genuine, being yourself, and building mutually beneficial relationships can be the most successful approach. There’s no need to try too hard to be memorable. Any genuine, likeable behaviour will stand out above aggressive networkers.