They say timing is everything. Nothing illustrated this more than when I entered a hall full of networkers today, and a woman I had never met approached me before I even put my dollar in the contribution jar. It was as if she came out of nowhere like a dive-bombing sparrow from the sky.
Honestly, I can’t remember what this woman said. Something about how one of her fellow networkers, who couldn’t make the event, wanted me to have her personal business card so I could contact her later.
It was unclear why I had to contact the woman’s fellow networker. What’s more, her fellow networker needed my business card, which I handed over. I only caught a portion of what the woman said, and then she was gone.
This, folks, is what gives networking a bad name. Something as important as developing a relationship should not be made unpleasant from point of contact. I was invited as a guest and, being the introvert I am, was already tense. Here is how one should act at a networking event.
- Approach potential connections slowly, yet confidently. Don’t spring upon a person like you’re a car salesman hiding behind the row of Odysseys. The encounter I described above…I’m still recovering from the surprise attack.
- Make eye-contact with someone before approaching. One can tell a lot about a person from the causal eye-contact. Is the person approachable? Or is he taking in the atmosphere and readying himself for an introduction? Don’t push it.
- Smile. I think some networkers have become aggressive because they’ve been out of work for longer than expected. They expect immediate results, when the purpose is to establish an amicable connection. A smile can hide anxiety or desperation, both of which make people uncomfortable.
- Extend your hand in a nonaggressive manner. One thing I learned from the guest speaker of today’s event is that woman should never hesitate to extend their hand, as it shows assertiveness and indicates she’s receptive. That said, do so gracefully and don’t squeeze the hell out of the other person. No limp handshakes either.
- Give the person your undivided attention. Later in the morning I was talking with someone who kept looking past me like she was expecting Prince Charming to come through the door. I realize I’m not Brad Pitt, but come on.
- Don’t offer your business card if you don’t mean business. It’s a waste of paper when I have to toss away a personal business card of someone with whom I have nothing in common. It’s not going to kill me if you think we have nothing in common. Let's not waste paper on false pretense.
- Catch the person on your way out. Do you ever leave a party without saying goodbye to the host? Of course not; that’s just plain rude. Make sure you afford your potential contacts the courtesy of letting them know you’re leaving. Otherwise, they’ll get that feeling of being blown off or continue to look for you during the rest of the event.
On my way back to the office I stopped by the neighborhood Panera Bread, where I ran into one of my customer who’s trying to find a job. The meeting was easy and refreshing and reminded me of what networking is all about—great conversation with the subtleness of networking in the background yet ever present. Now, this was good timing.