Don't make these 10 mistakes at your next networking event

By Michael Goldberg

Knock Out Networking

The good news is that these 10 mistakes I’m going to mention are completely preventable. You may make other mistakes, but be critical of yourself and try not to make the same mistakes over and over. Some people call that learning.

Do you make these mistakes at a networking event? Perhaps in the midst of sipping that drink, ordering that appetizer, searching for that business card or making that small talk? Maybe you checked your email or looked at your watch.

Then you wonder why you don’t get more business out of these events. And what are you going to do with all of those business cards you've accumulated?

Yes, all events are different. Your approach to networking often depends on the type of meeting, the type of people in attendance and the type of venue. I showed up as the speaker for a networking meeting recently to find that it was set up like a night club — bar, television screens everywhere, multi-level wooden dance floors, spot lights, mirrors and loud music. My contact described the facility to me, but I really had no idea until I saw it. It was a great event but different than most business meetings, given the surroundings. Again, all events are different. But if the focus of the event is to get business people together, you want to make the most of the event from a networking standpoint.

What does that mean? It means making great connections, which lead to great relationships and, eventually, great business. All of this means that exceptional things need to happen in the process. The good news is that these 10 mistakes I’m going to mention are completely preventable.

Here they are:

1. Performing social work —
Not the type you’re thinking about. At networking events, it’s great to be a social butterfly and flutter around talking about movies, vacation spots and children’s birthday parties. You should have fun! But remember why you’re there: to gain more business, land a job, learn something or problem-solve. If you’re there for social networking (as in making friends and landing dates), then it’s a different business plan and probably a different meeting altogether. But my remaining points still apply!

2. Focusing on the sale —
Repeat after me: No selling ever! Focus on the relationships and then the business will come. Maybe not right away, but it takes time to develop relationships. There isn't a business meeting, networking function, chamber mixer, meet-up or association gathering I've attended where a financial planner, travel agent, Web developer, social media guru or network marketer isn't pitching me their business. Don’t be one of them. Be there to make connections, start relationships, learn something and help someone. That’s why you’re there.

3. Failing to get involved in the event itself —
Put yourself to work. Introduce yourself to the event planner or coordinator and offer to help with handing out paperwork, raffles, greeting, registration or even arranging furniture. Bottom line, get involved! Even if those in charge don’t need your help, they will remember that you asked. Often it’s the thought that counts. Being a mover and shaker always translates into being a mover and shaker.

4. Getting too caught up with the refreshments —
Don’t let the buffet table and the bar take you away from why you’re there ... unless that’s why you’re there. Grab a bite, sip a drink and keep your focus on who you’re looking to meet, what you’re going to say and what you want to accomplish. And then accomplish it.

5. Failing to do your homework —
Shame on you if you don’t know who you want to meet (titles, professions, industry and even names), the type of event you will be attending (chamber, association, networking round table, service group), what you’re going to say (specific questions, speaking points, elevator pitch), and the outcomes you seek. Prepare index cards ahead of time with your notes and lists from your research. That’s what LinkedIn and Google are for.

6. Failing to ask the right questions —
If you ask the right question, you get the right answer. If you don’t ask the question, the answer is always no. Good rule of thumb: Ask questions that you would want to be asked. "So, what type of work do you do? How did you get involved in your field? How long have you been at it? What differentiates you from the competition? What brings you to this event? Who are you looking to meet? Why? Do you have a target market? How can I help?" Ask these types of questions of the people you meet and see what happens.

7. Failing to use a strong elevator speech—
You must know what you do, what you’re looking for and how to convey it. If you don’t, who does? Keep in mind an elevator speech should not be an actual pitch or script; it should be a structure. Your elevator speech is simply a set of guidelines that forces you to stay focused on expressing your profession, expertise, target marketplace and call to action — but it's only to be given when asked.

8. Failing to collaborate —
Networking is not all about you. It’s always about the people you meet and like. Focus on helping them and they may help you right back. The relationships you seek should ideally be a “we” thing rather than a “me” thing. Otherwise, they’re not really relationships at all. Attitude drives language. Language drives relationships. Relationships drive business. And business drives more relationships. So make sure your attitude is a collaborative one.

9. Failing to follow-up —
Following up starts at the event, not when you leave. Plan to establish a follow-up when you’re still at the event. "Should we exchange business cards and explore how we might help one another? When would be a good time to reconnect and brainstorm?" You should always know which of the business cards you've collected will be part of your follow-up strategy. How will you know? Because you’ll take notes on them to insure that you do.

10. Failing to keep the end in mind. —
Remember why you’re at an event, meeting or function. I attended a huge national association meeting a couple of months back, and my expectation was to meet the people on my list (I met them all), get my questions answered about their industry (I got my answers and then some), get introduced to others on my target list (check, check), and get an article in their national publication (I landed a monthly column). Focus on the outcome. As long as your expectations are reasonable, you’ll meet or exceed them.

I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong! Put a fine point on not making these mistakes at the events you attend and see what happens. You may make other mistakes, but be critical of yourself and try not to make the same mistakes over and over. Some people call that learning.