Schmooze, Don’t Lose (Opportunity or Reputation)
In-person networking is beginning to re-enter our lives. Finally! Hey, Zoom is great when you can’t meet face-to-face, but it can’t hold a candle to good old-fashioned people-schmoozing.
But do it right. Some of us may have forgotten how to properly approach strangers whom we want to meet. We’re a little out of practice in the small-talk department, hoping to stoke their interest but not veer into boredom or braggadocio. And we may be just a little too giddy at the prospect of some honest-to-goodness, real human contact that we forget why we’re there in the first place.
Never fear. Here are a few tips on the do’s and don’ts of in-person networking that will bring you up to speed and have you slapping your forehead with a “Duh! Of course!” Think of it as a little tickler file to get you back into constructive networking that will help you forge new business relationships and friendships.
Smile and introduce yourself. Take the initiative to get the ball (and conversation) rolling. It’s usually quite gratifying to the other person that you show the interest to approach them. If the other individual is well-known, such as an event’s guest speaker, keep it brief. There’s probably a long line of people behind you waiting for the same opportunity.
Keep your introductions short and sweet, concise but interesting. Unless it’s a speed-dating type of business networking event, this is not the time for effusive self-promotion. Most people don’t like being sold to, though they’ll appreciate passion and confidence in what you’re saying as long as it’s not overbearing.
Genuinely be interested in the other person and ask about their work or hobbies.Most people enjoy talking about themselves and will remember someone who took the time to inquire. Think about it from the other person’s perspective. How would you react?
Be a friend first. Perhaps you can answer their questions or offer a new way to look at a problem they’ve been wrestling with. Be a resource, if you can. Chances are you’ll be remembered well for it.
When you’re not sure what to talk about, look for commonality. As a start, ask what drew them to this event that you’re both attending. Are either of you looking to solve a problem, find inspiration, bounce ideas off other attendees, or just learn something new? Start from there and see if you’re on the same wavelength. The conversation will flow naturally.
Remember the two ears and one mouth rule: Listen twice as much to the other person than to expressing your own views. Respond to what they’re saying and engage in meaningful back-and-forth conversation. Focus on your own inner dialogue and you may miss something important you could have learned from them.
Exchange contact information and follow up after the event. Have business cards (the physical or the digital), on hand. If people are genuinely interested, they’ll ask how to reach you. Follow up soon after the event if you promised to send them any materials or if you’d just like to cultivate the relationship. Hey, who doesn’t respond positively to a thank you note or expression of appreciation?
Don’t brag, exaggerate, or overly promote yourself, your services, or ideas. Make certain there is an interested audience. If so, there will be opportunity to continue the conversation and move the relationship forward another time.
Don’t come across as needy, especially if you perceive the other person to be in a higher position of power or influence. No one likes desperation or, worse, a potential parasite. At a networking event, people are looking to interact with colleagues, discover new business partners, gather new information, or meet others of like mind. Be the interesting, knowledgeable, or helpful person others like to see approaching them from across the room.
Don’t share everything at once. Information overload! They’d probably not remember any of it, anyways, only that you had been throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at them all at once. Leave room for a reason to contact them later to continue the discussion.
Don’t push business cards or digital sharing if the other person isn’t forthcoming. It’ll only end up in the nearby trash can or delete folder anyways.
If you’re part of a group interested in speaking with one person, don’t step on other people’s toes to get their attention. It’s just not a good look and, yes, your target will notice. The same holds true for disparaging other people, even competitors. Such behavior only reflects poorly on you. Keep it positive and professional.
On the other extreme, don’t be shy and only talk to people you know. That just defeats the purpose of a networking event. If it makes you feel better, walk with a friend or colleague and make the rounds together to meet new people. It will also give you someone to tag-team with to get a conversation going.
This should be obvious, but it IS holiday time and people don’t always think of possible repercussions to “letting their hair down.” Please don’t get drunk or act inappropriately at a corporate or networking type of event. Watch the swearing, political posturing, or other behaviors that can alienate the very type of people you’re hoping to meet and impress. You don’t want to end up in a social media post gone viral as the poster child for bad or embarrassing behavior.
Let’s hope that we are truly able to emerge from behind our Zoom screens now and finally interact in person, as we’ve longed to do since the pandemic first began. Yes, it means putting on pants and realizing that the mute and video options are no longer available. Let’s just make sure we remember some of these basic do’s and don’ts, so that we can confidently get the most out our networking events and not wish we could just crawl back to relative anonymity within Zoom.