Recently, my friends and I went to a networking event.
You'd think that after writing so many articles about networking (here, here and here), by now I would be a pro at the whole meet-and-greet, shake-a-hand, give-a-card/take-a-card, chat-up-then-shut-up-and-listen-up thing.
Yes, well. That's what I thought, too.
I'm still struggling. So are a lot of people my age (Generation Y, in case you're wondering).
Here are some common mistakes to avoid, the next time you find yourself squinting at a scrawled nametag and awkwardly balancing a glass of $3 wine and a plate of Swedish meatballs in one hand.
Get off your phone
We all have phones. We all have people to call, friends to text, Facebook updates to read, but standing constantly checking your phone is just lame. Nobody is going to talk to you if you're talking to Siri.
Ditch your friends
Going to a networking event with friends is pointless. Although my friends and I had fun, we basically just had fun with ourselves. If I were traveling solo, I would've eased into conversations with people around me. We were like a pack of networking wolves—we traveled together, ate together, and talked together. Lone wolves have a much better chance for chatting up new people at events. Just don't start howling.
Ask fun questions
Avoid starting your conversations with, "How did you hear about the event?" "Is your company hiring?" or, "This weather is crazy, huh?!" People complain that networking events are "boring." That's because people ask boring questions. You're not going to get anything interesting or fun out of an encounter with a stranger if you play by your old standards.
If you go into networking events—and life in general—with the attitude that you can learn something from everybody you meet, you'll find yourself enjoying conversations more.
If you're funny, try a little humor. If you're not-OK, never mind; nobody who's not funny actually realizes it. Give it a shot, in any case. At least you're trying.
It's not a numbers game
You shouldn't measure the success of the event by how many business cards you're holding at the end of the night. It's much better to have two or three business cards (from people you enjoyed talking with), versus a bunch of cards from strangers. Less is more. Remember to follow up, too.
A few dos and don'ts:
- Don't spill food or wine all over yourself. If you're a sloppy eater, just stick to drinking water—and maybe, if you're feeling ambitious, a handful of crackers. One at a time, please.
- You can't help it if everything served is slathered with garlic and onions, but don't give halitosis a head start. Brush your teeth. There's no better way to repel a contact than with hideous breath.
- Wear your nametag on the right-hand side.
- Practice your handshake. Shake hands straight on—"thumb to thumb." Don't creep people out with a "dead fish."
Jessica Levco is co-editor of Ragan's Health Care Communication News.