Avoid These 10 Networking Blunders ⋆ Small Business Marketing Consultant | Small Business Branding

Avoid These 10 Networking Blunders

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!

I teach exactly how to craft a Jaw-Dropping Self-Intro on my free training, here.

3. Jargon

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.

7. Handouts

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.

8. Monologists

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.

10. Bargers-in

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.

  • Thanks for the comment on my blog, and thanks for posting these tips.

    I particularly liked your thoughts on the “What do you do?” question… I’ll need to think carefully about a short answer that sums me up.

    Thanks again.

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  • Awesome list…very refreshing and great points of interest for me. Gave you a shout-out over at my place.

  • Judy Best

    Great list, Samantha. I find it awkward to step into groups at networking events, because everyone is so engaged. I’m going to practice #9 personally, hoping for good karma.

  • Chris and Jenny – Thanks! Great to connect with fellow 31DBBB participants.

    Judy, I agree! Good karma is the best step – reaching out to others who look stressed by networking, asking for cards instead of waiting to be asked, introducing people… just polite – and good business.

  • Great list. I love the concept of the audio logo. I need to work on mine. My wife doesn’t understand what I do.

  • Hi Bradford. Thanks for stopping by!

    I hear that from so many people – just remember: she can’t give you referrals without being clear about what you do. Some of my best jobs/projects were referrals/intros from my mom and my husband. (Not exactly objective sources!)

  • Wonderful list. I wonder what can be done on number 9? Convo Hogs. Being somewhat vertically challenged, I find it is often hard to break in when I am the short one in a tall grouping. Any ideas?

  • Thorne

    This is great advice!

  • Great question, Terry!

    In my experience a small group at networking events can be “closed” because (a) it’s actually a clique, (b) someone is doing serious business and (c) people are just plain unreceptive.

    While personally I think all those are out of place at a networking event (or just about any other truly social situation) and by the way RUDE, it can help to remind ourselves they all happen. That way we don’t look rude ourselves barging in on what is actually a private activity happening in public.

    Focus instead on groups that look receptive.

    Motion will attract eyes to you, so nod or laugh along with something appropriate and then merge on in. As you saw in the post, I’m a big believer that a smile is a passport to almost anywhere, so with a nod and a smile you can’t go wrong!

    Hope to see you back here, Terry. :-D

  • AndrewNim

    One thing I always do is keep my cards in one pocket, receive cards to s separate pocket. I have seen someone give over the card of a rival company before. Ouch. Have a system. Look at a card you are given, if its nice and works, comment. Its a good conversation point.

  • Hi Andrew,

    Love the Lego Gravatar! Good tip about the pockets, although tough for us women who don’t always have them. Either way a system is the way to go.

    Also like your suggestion about commenting on cards you’re given. Very nice. After having worked in the Far East I always take cards with two hands; I appreciate the intention to honor that is contained in it.

  • Thanks for the tips. Thanks for sharing them. I learned a lot from this post.

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  • Thanks for this enlightened post. 2,4,7 and 9 interested me particularly as I have only recently started attending network events on a more regular basis. Nice one!

  • @Brochure Printing, @On the Money – Thank you for your comments and I hope the tips pay off in your networking!

  • Great advice! I just got back from AdTech, and I can’t tell you how many people didn’t have cards. Even if you don’t have them prior to attending the event and can’t afford the branding, a free template card is better than no card.

    Another great tip- plan accordingly. There are so many great sessions, networking events, and exhibiting companies, there’s no way to fit it all in. Sometimes you miss the best opportunities by not planning in advance, and communicating with other attendees.

  • Hi MLDina – I know, right? Crazy that people are surprised that way. Run out? Fine. Didn’t bring any? Duh!

    Love your planning suggestion. You’re right that there’s always more than you can do. Start with “where will I benefit most” and go from there.

  • Tom Fama

    Absolutely right on.