Last weekend I attended an Internet Marketing conference with 180 die-hard entrepreneurs. Everyone there was hoping to connect with potential clients, partners and vendors. There was quite a mix of people in the room, from millionaires to newbies.
For some reason, fabulous interpersonal networking is always a powerful learning experience. Lest you think I’m focused on the negative, I’ll point out that I had just about the best time ever at this conference. It was the perfect trifecta of learning tons of stuff, meeting super people and feeling inspired about great information to share with you.
But, sometimes “negative teachers” model things for us in ways that help the lessons stick better. So, keep a light heart as I share these networking blunders I observed recently.
1. No card
I was astonished at the number of people who didn’t have business cards! Running out is one thing. I had to replenish my supply several times, since the networking exceeded my expectations. However, showing up to a conference about connecting without a card communicates apathy or unpreparedness – neither of which you want to be known for.
2. No Jaw-Dropping Self-Intro
I’ve talked in previous articles about the best way to introduce oneself or answer the question, “What do you do (WDYD)?” (Reminder: Just say your target market, the main problem you solve for them and the solution you provide.) Since this is the single most predictable question at a networking event, you should be ready with your answer. Surprisingly, some people weren’t. If you don’t have a knock-out answer to WDYD ready right this second, your homework is to get one TODAY!
Someone got publicly called out for delivering a jargon-filled answer to WDYD. If you’re not sure about your jargon content, go tell your self-intro to your mom, your spouse and a few smart 12-year olds. Ask them to tell it back to you in their own words. Humbling, right?
4. “Well, I do a lot of things but …”
Honestly, when we ask the WDYD question, what we’re really asking is, “Do I need to know you?” There’s only about 5 seconds to capture someone’s attention. Whenever anyone answers WDYD with “I do a lot of things” – and believe me, about 5 people did! – the thought bubble over my head reads: “Sorry I asked!”
Either say a single, overarching self-intro that talks about all you do, or just talk about the one that’s relevant NOW to the person you’re speaking with.
5. Disconnect between self-intro and card
At least two people I met gave intriguing self-intros, then delivered cards that, bizarrely, had nothing to do with what they said. In one case, the brand is confusing (one person trying to do too many things), so I tossed that card. In the other, I wrote what she did on the back of what looked to be a personal card. However, confirming my suspicions was a web site that looked more like a MySpace page. Not a credibility builder.
A simple rule: Be sure your cards uphold and enhance the message of your self-intro.
6. Generic looking cards from an online printer
Two cards I received were of good quality but contained imagery available through the templates at online printing services. The message this sends is either (a) “I couldn’t be bothered to invest in branded materials,” or (b) “My business is not successful enough to invest in branded materials.” Either way, it damages your brand in the eyes of the card recipient.
In a networking situation, we’re all up and on the move. Sometimes you’re holding a beverage, and ideally you’ve got pockets or a folder for your cards and their cards. A fast way to make a terrible impression is to burden someone with a handout, brochure, additional cards for your other businesses (ugh, see #4 above) and other “junk.” Now, in another context this could be valuable information. In this one, it’s just not appropriate.
Exception: slightly oversize cards that stand out from the pack, or very unique designs. The downside is that they may get crushed in the pocket, but the upside is people will generally try to protect a special card.
You can’t connect in a one-way discussion. Share the air!
9. Convo Hogs
If someone has sidled up to your group and is smiling and nodding, find a break in the conversation and let them in. I will do this physically by turning my body and foot toward the new person, even before I have a break to acknowledge them. While it might be rude to intrude on a convo in other social settings, this is the whole point during networking. So, open yourself (and your body) to the possibilities.
In some cases, people don’t sidle up, they come barreling in. One woman who did this during one of my interactions has an intriguing service, but I worry about doing business with someone with the social skills of a snowplow. After all, everything communicates, so what message does her networking behavior say?
The best networkers I met were supplied with smiles, curiosity and business cards. It’s so easy; avoid these blunders and you’ll shine during your next networking encounter.