When it comes to business networking mistakes, I made them all. As a matter of fact, It would be hard to find a mistake that I have not made. You, on the other hand, you can stay away from them. At first I had no clue how to network and meet potential business partners. Not the right way anyway. After attending enough business talks and networking events I started to see interesting patterns. And a few others were pointed out to me by networking experts and socialites, who knew what they were doing.
It took me over a year to master the key basics. The good news is that you can learn from mistakes of people like myself. Here is a short summary of the key networking mistakes you should stay away from.
1. Attending too many events
There are people who say they have no time to prepare for the event, because they are too busy. Don't be like them. Select only those events that provide some kind of value to you. An interesting speaker, the right audience you should meet.
There are too many events out there and you need to say 'no' to many, in order to have time for the right ones. It is well worth it.
2. Arriving unprepared
Saying no to other events will save you time to focus on events that you want to attend. Use that time wisely: do your homework. Check the agenda and arrive on time.
Research the keynote speakers and if list of attendees is available, select a short-list of people you want to meet. Not more than 5 people. Write them down and have the list with you.
3. Running out of things to say
When you approach the person you want to meet, sometimes the conversation stalls after a while. This can be avoided. Simple look at the person's Linkedin profile will give you 2-3 interesting topics to talk about. Write them down on your short-list.
When someone is a passionate golfer and we start talking about his/her favorite subject, we will soon have a good connection and strong rapport. It's critical to mention that you should not pretend to like a subject just because they do. Select a topic that you both enjoy talking about.
Photo: Startup Grind business networking talk in London
4. Arriving late
Some would say this is one of the biggest mistakes you can do. Networking events or business talks have their own set of rules. One of them is that is much easier to meet a keynote speaker before he speaks on stage, rather than after his talk. If his or her talk was any good, you will have to line up and wait for your turn.
Another important thing is that the later you arrive the more other attendees already have connected. It will feel more like you are invading other people's conversations. When you arrive early, people are more open to talk to others and have more time available for doing it.
5. Ignoring your short-list
Remember that list we mentioned in points 2.a 3.? Well, that it a list that will make your life much easier if you put it to good use. Be smart and don't ignore it, no matter how busy or late you are. You made that list for a reason.
When arriving at the event, make sure to look at your short-list again. Try to memorise those handful of people that you wanted to meet. Make sure you will meet them as soon as you can. After objectives from your list are achieved, you will have a great feeling and enjoy the event even more.
6. Playing hard to get
You would think that people will be extra friendly when they come to a networking event. Yet, there are people who prefer to be less friendly. They think that playing a little hard to get helps. The problem with this approach is that it comes across as arrogant. And the truth of the matter is, nobody likes an arrogant person.
There is nothing wrong with smiling at someone if your eyes meet at a networking event. There are people who need encouragement and won't approach when the person they think of approaching is not smiling. Next time someone walks by you and why not saying 'hi' and inviting that person to join your conversation?
Photo: Networking session at a recent Startup Grind fireside chat
7. Wasting opportunities to be introduced
As cleverly described in the theory of separation, by average we are only six introductions away from any other person in the world. It may well be that you don't know anyone at at event or only a handful of people. But combine those people you already know or just met, they collectively know a lot of people at that event.
Use that. It is very simple. Find out who do they know there that you might like to meet. When you find out they know somebody interesting, ask to be introduced. People enjoy helping others when asked nicely. You should of course, offer to do the same for them.
8. Having a boring personal pitch
This one is so common, it hurts. Do you remember an interesting introduction somebody gave you recently? Yes, most of us will remember an interesting pitch, but only a few are smart enough to give it some thought and prepare an interesting self-introduction. When it comes to networking you can be certain that this question always comes up:
"So, what do you do?"
The best thing you can do to stand out is give it some thought. Talk about it with your best friends. Make it interesting, funny and intriguing. Give them a reason to want to know more about you. By the way, same goes to your company pitch. When someone asks what your company does, have a smart answer ready. If you will, you will be one of the few interesting people they will remember from that event.
9. Not taking notes
Meeting people is hard. When you meet someone interesting, you want to remember their name and everything important and relevant that they tell you. You should of course remember their names. That's a given.
However you do not have to remember everything by heart. Write it down. If you exchange business cards, make it a habit to remember 3-4 interesting facts about that person. Have a pen ready and feel free to write what you remembered on the back side of their business card. It will help you better relate to that person next time you meet.
10. Ignoring follow-up
We get busy. As a matter of fact, we can busier all the time and our attention span is getting shorter. That sounds awful. Well, that's life. The good news for you is that by following up, you will be one of the few people who do what they say they would. That is your word and you need to honour it.
Your objective is to make that person more comfortable with you. Ideally you will meet face to face again. For some people that is too much, especially for those who are busy. Consider therefore taking a few smaller steps. Send them something interesting that you were talking about, like an interesting video, link to an industry event with a great speaker, etc. Arrange a short call, have a good chat and ask how you can help.
Photo: Startup Grind CEO Derek Andersen interviews founder of Metro Bank, Vernon Hill
Attending business events is becoming very popular. Business conferences, seminars, workshops, meetups - you name it. You don't have to run around and waste your time like most other people. Stay away from the above mentioned mistakes and your networking skills will take you to the next level almost overnight.
If you are in the mood to learn more about business networking, you are in a good place. On Tue 25th Nov we will host another fireside chat in our series of 'extremely successful CEOs and founders'. This time with the captain of all accelerators in Europe, Jon Bradford, MD of Techstars. Click here for more info.