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Professional Networking: Dos & Don’ts For Networking Events
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Professional Networking: Dos & Don’ts For Networking Events - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Dos & Don’ts For Networking Events

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Dos & Don’ts For Networking Events

There is a lot (really, a LOT) of advice on the internet about how to behave at a networking event, and most of it’s not very good. In fact, some of it is downright wrong, as when some people advise us not to spend the whole time with one person because “more is always better” or that we should have our elevator pitches rehearsed so we can get them out quickly, without boring potential contacts. With all due respect to well-meaning advice-givers, while there are kernels of truth in this bad guidance, they miss the point by encouraging us to splash around in the shallow end of the swimming pool, often urging behaviors that give networking a bad name. A networking event shouldn’t be a shudder-inducing schmooze-a-thon, and here are some ways we can all make them better. This is not a comprehensive list, and some of it may be debatable, but it’s a good place to start.

1. Don’t ignore the wallflowers.
Depending on the size of the event, there are people who naturally attract attention and people who stick to the edges. Spend some time on the edges. Everyone is there to meet people, so even the shyer attendees will be receptive to some good conversation, and since you’ll be away from the throng, you may find the situation conducive to more substantial talk. You already know that some of the most creative thinkers tend to be fringe-dwellers. Yes, it can be harder to break away if you’re not feeling a connection, but it’s a mingling event, so “Hey, I’m going to mingle. Thank for the great conversation; do you have a card?” is a perfectly acceptable transition.

2. Do keep the high road.
People love a juicy story, and few things bond people more quickly than a shared dislike for someone else, but this never healthy. Ease away from gossip, and if anyone asks for confirmation about some unsavory thing going on at your firm, don’t merely be diplomatic: be positive. This is not the place for airing grievances about your place of business or anyone else’s. Even a question about why you left one company and moved to another, no matter the circumstances, should be answered with positivity. When someone says, “You worked at Company X? I hear things are chaotic there now,” your response is, “There are some great people there. I have huge respect for several members of their team.”

3. Don’t wedge yourself into conversations.
In general, people are at these events to mingle. If you see a few people in a loose circle, you can feel free to approach and participate, but this doesn’t mean becoming the center of attention. Sidle up and listen. If you have something to add to the existing discussion, chime in, but choose your spots wisely. A better strategy is to listen closely to what others are saying, and ask a couple of meaningful follow-up questions. The most interesting people at networking events are the ones who are most interested in others.

4. Do reconnect with familiar people.
Whether someone you’ve met at previous events became a connection or not, acknowledge your acquaintance with a smile and a handshake. Offer sincere pleasantries, ask a question or two, and spend time being interested. Again: the most interesting people at any networking event are the ones who are most interested in others. If you’re already well-connected with someone, ask for an update on that project she was involved in, or inquire about some friend you have in common. Networking isn’t only about creating new connections; it’s also about strengthening existing bonds.

5. Don’t rush potential connections.
People tend to show up repeatedly at certain kinds of events. If you don’t get a chance to engage one-on-one with someone who seems interesting, offer a friendly word in passing, a smile, or a nod. Be the friendly face he or she recognizes later, maybe at another event or maybe in line at the coffee shop, when you may have a solo opportunity to connect.

The problem with most advice about networking events is that it focuses on our getting as much as we can out of them. Of course we can assert ourselves, give our practiced pitches, and trade a hundred cards, but have we made it a worthwhile event for others, or have we socially spammed a roomful of people? If we think of these events as Easter-egg-hunts, we gather as many eggs as we can, but we may cause someone else to come away empty-handed. It’s far better when we think of an event as a group dance, participating as part of a whole, and including everyone in a mutually engaging experience.

 

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Professional Networking: Dos & Don’ts For Networking Events - Executive Leadership Articles

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