Sue Fish details six classic networking mistakes and how to avoid them
Some people will tell you networking doesn’t work. That’s not my experience. Networking helped my career when I worked in a large organisation and it has been crucial in building my current business.
However, it is true that there are some networking mistakes that can be counterproductive in career terms, or for building broader business relationships.
1. Making one minute feel like an hour
When you are meeting people for the first time or reconnecting with someone you’ll often be asked general questions: What are you doing now? What’s new in your company? It’s amazing how many people do not actually know how long they have been talking for! We use the idea that one minute is the maximum for a business elevator pitch. Yet if asked some people will say they’ve talked for sixty seconds when it fact it’s been five minutes.
For an answer to an initial question I’d recommend speaking for much less than a minute. However, if you are giving a pitch aim for around 120-150 words and make sure what you say is concise, builds interest and memorable. Remember, everyone is busy and has other people to meet and other events to rush to!
2. Overwhelming people with enthusiasm
You may well find you meet people at networking events who have just started a business. Their enthusiasm for what they do borders into pushiness – which is extremely off-putting. We have all come across people who are preachy and won’t take no for an answer. And did you buy from them? Chances are you didn’t, or if you did, you felt pressured, uncomfortable and never bought from them again.
When we’re networking with colleagues and have a career goal in mind, there is also a fine line between passion and pushiness. Listen to others, be polite, friendly, approachable, and do share your passion because people will buy into that. However, you need to keep your focus on the other person. If you’re talking to a senior executive you’ll pick up if their attention is elsewhere, so you can tactfully extract yourself and look for a future opportunity to talk. You may also be able to introduce them to a new senior hire they need to meet and leave them to their own networking – and with a positive impression of you.
3. Focusing on what’s in it for me
Networking is about building relationships and focusing on WIIFT – what’s in it for them, and not WIIFM – what’s in it for me. Consider how you can help others rather than focusing on how can you grow your business. If you make the effort to help others, you will soon find people wanting to help you and you will be paid back tenfold for your kindness.
4. Judging others
Don’t assume that just because you’re not interested in what someone does, then they are not worth talking to. There’s a good chance you will miss out on a potential friendship, support, or advice. You may also miss out on a business contact who could be invaluable to you, your boss or your organisation.
5. Mumbling in an embarrassed fashion
If you are new to networking, it can feel overwhelming; especially if you are a formal event. If you have to take a turn introducing yourself; stand up, relax your shoulders, and take a deep calming breath. This will help you project your voice and sound confident. If you feel uncomfortable, try looking at people’s foreheads rather than their eyes – it’s less intimidating!
6. Being a poor ambassador
When you are networking on behalf of your organisation, it is important to represent it positively, enthusiastically and professionally. Hearing “oh, I’m just here because my company sent me” or “no-one else had time to attend” doesn’t exactly instil confidence. Remember that you are an ambassador, so act professionally at all times when networking. Everything you do is an opportunity and you never know when you might come across someone again or be in need of their services.
Networking can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience as well as a beneficial one – so make sure you avoid these mistakes and get the most from the experience.