Networking sounds easy. You meet people at conferences, have discussions, exchange business cards, and you are in. Right? Not quite.
By Smith Willas
On a basic level, sure, networking is easy, but many people make simple mistakes that can work against them. And with conference season already underway, it’s important that you’re ready to hit the ground running.
Before you head off to your next conference, check out these nine networking mistakes, so you can ensure you avoid making them.
1. Talking Instead of Listening
Seasoned conference goers will be the first to tell you to make sure you’re listening. A lot of people get excited at a new networking opportunity and completely forget to engage rather than dominate. If you are always talking and not listening, you’ll struggle to make real connections.
Everyone wants to be heard, so make sure you are listening and engaging without taking over the conversation just to talk about your company.
2. Thinking You Already Know Everyone
You’re there to meet new people. If you behave as though you already know everyone who’s there with you, you won’t make the connections you’re looking for.
Reach out to new faces whenever you can and remain friendly. You never know who else these people know and might be willing to introduce you to.
3. Forgetting Your Business Cards
When packing for a conference, most everyone brings business cards. Not bringing your cards is like forgetting to put on underwear when getting dressed. However, forgetting business cards is one of the most common mistakes you can make, and it happens more frequently than people care to admit.
It’s the easiest way to exchange contact information, but at the same time, you’re often left with a pile of them that’s easy to misplace. If you forget your business cards, you can at least use a business card scanner app for Salesforce to collect information from the people you meet. It can even automatically upload the information into your CRM.
4. Always Eating Meals with People You Know
When you see a lot of the same people at conferences, it’s easy to gravitate towards them at mealtimes. The truth is, the meal is the best time to network with new faces. These are longer periods to relax, enjoy food, and really get to know each other. After a workshop, you might only have five or ten minutes to talk and make an impression. A meal gives you at least 30 minutes to an hour.
Opt for tables with people you don’t know, and you’ll open up to a lot of opportunity. If you are nervous, as many of us are, pair up with someone you do know to sit at a table with people you don’t know. Having that one person can be just enough to build up some confidence and be engaging with strangers.
5. Skipping the After-Hours Events
Multiday conferences are exhausting! When attending, it is wise to pace yourself. Unfortunately, many people will opt out of after-hours events and that is where you should be! After-hours is just like a meal; it is more time to talk freely and get to know your peers while networking. It is also a time to wind down and show your fun side.
Of course, this should be within reason. After-hours events may feature alcohol and this where you don’t want to lose complete control and throw inhibitions out the window. Have fun, drink socially, but always maintain your self-control during that time. You’re still a face for your company!
6. Not Having an Elevator Pitch Ready
An elevator pitch is a rehearsed blurb about your company and what you offer. It’s like a snapshot that gives people a glimpse at what you are about and why you are at that particular conference. While many people think they can just talk off the cuff, many times they forget to make important points, or they go off the path and into a different discussion all together. It’s really easy to do that when your adrenaline is up, and you have a captive audience.
Practice beforehand. Work with your sales team and get feedback on how you sound. Do you hit the important points? Was there a place you stumbled? Did you talk too fast? Rehearsing with others really helps the elevator pitch and can make your one-minute opportunity into a great relationship later.
7. Failing to Connect Ahead of the Event
If you check out the event website, you’ll likely find a list of attendees, and at the very least, the speakers. Most of the time, social media handles are included so you can connect and start building relationships before the actual event. Many conferences often have Facebook Groups and Twitter lists specifically for attendees. Use those resources so you can get a good idea of who you’d like to connect with in person.
If you already know a little bit about other attendees, it is a great way to start talking to someone to learn more and figure out how your company could help them. It also helps ease social anxiety, because you may feel like you already know them so you’re not exactly striking up conversation with a complete stranger.
8. Trying to Meet Everyone
Your connections should be about quality rather than quantity. If you’re the person who just says “Hi” and leaves a business card, your business card is going to end up in the trash, because the people you gave it to won’t remember you later.
Build a good relationship with individuals to build a solid reputation and you will be able to expand your connections at the next industry event you attend.
9. Failing to Follow Up
There is no point in attending if you aren’t going to follow up. Never expect other people to contact you just because you gave them a card. You take that step to make sure you reconnect afterwards and work for that new client you are trying to bring in.
The key is to give everyone time after the event to wind down and get back into a routine, then be friendly and offer something of value – whether it’s related to your business or not. Seek to help the connections before you start selling.
A Final Word
Conferences are meant to be a good time while networking for work. Relax, have fun, and have a good time. Remember that if you end up making the above mistakes, or any others, it’s probably not going to mean the end of the world for you.
The goal is to learn and improve every time you go to a conference. Pretty soon it will become second nature.
Smith Willas is a freelance writer, blogger, and digital media journalist. He has a management degree in Supply Chain & Operations Management and Marketing and boasts a wide-ranging background in digital media. You can follow him on Twitter.