Networking 101 – Common mistakes to avoid

Growing your professional circle of trust is one of the best strategies to take on because the biggest boost to a business comes from trusted people that know your work. Everybody is aware of the enormous value of referrals and recommendations. Certainly, it is possible that your business success could be based on the powerful word of mouth. Networking is the key for establishing relationships between businesses that could lead to long-term benefits for all parties concerned.

You probably already know all that since networking is virtually an official London hobby, and so today we won’t tire you by dwelling on how many opportunities this city provides for putting it into practice. We would rather focus on something a bit more subtle but equally important when it comes to increasing -and maintaining- your contacts: how to do it right.

If anything, our experience attending all sorts of events has taught us a few things about common faux pas that we are all likely to make sooner rather than later. However, and even if you are not a born  networker, with a little guidance and advice you can be a step closer to working a room in full swing the next time you attend an event.

So let’s get started with a few things you definitely should avoid at all costs:

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– Unsuitable behaviour.

Who has not felt a bit embarrassed by the behaviours of someone who got a bit carried away with the wine or was being the centre of attention for the wrong reasons at an event? As obvious as it may seem, it is worth remembering that you are in a professional setting. The people you are likely to meet there are potential clients or business partners, and they aren’t likely to become so if the image they have in their mind about you is of someone behaving inappropriately in a situation where you should try your best to make a good impression. This does not mean networking events are boring; it is more a question of remembering that you are not at a club with friends.

– Being either extremely cautious or too overwhelming when approaching /leaving people.

We have all found ourselves in a situation where we want to join a conversation in a group of people we don’t know and   we hope someone notices us and invites us to participate. Admit it: you too have gone through that awkward moment. Likewise, endless are the times we have wanted to leave a group and were unable to find a way that did not involve a mention to the toilet.

So what’s the best way to enter in a group already formed without interrupting unnecessarily or looking like a stalker? The cases are two:

A) If you know somebody in the group, or have spoken to them previously, our advice is that you try to make eye contact with the person you know. This will serve two purposes: you will be acknowledged by them and be introduced as a new participant to the conversation, and that person can also in turn be your link to the rest of the group.

B) If you don’t know anybody in the group, you should introduce yourself politely taking advanced of a pause (i.e. “Excuse me for interrupting your conversation”) and try to find some common ground between yourself and the others in order to keep the conversation flowing. You can mention that you accidentally overheard a bit of their conversation and thought it was very interesting, so you would like to contribute as well.

When leaving a group, you should follow the same rules and be as natural as possible when excusing yourself. People are used to this, so there is nothing wrong in leaving a conversation after a certain time. Just remember to do it politely, thanking your interlocutors -especially if you were invited to join them- and mention it was a pleasure speaking to them. If possible, try to leave taking advantage of a pause during the conversation.

– Spending too much time with one person or spending time with people you already know.

If you attend different activities and events on a regular basis, it is only a question of time that you develop your own personal network and consequently end up spending most of your time with people you already know.  There is nothing wrong in that provided you also allot time for making new contacts.

Likewise, try not to spend too much time with the same person. This not only reduces the chances of the person you are speaking to of meeting others, but also yours.

We are aware that time may be an important setback if you want to both greet people you know and meet newcomers; you can always find a balance by introducing new contacts you make to your established network – they will both thank you afterwards.

-Constantly look away when speaking to somebody (i.e.: as if trying to find your next target)

So many people and so little time. What to do? Prioritise quality over quantity. You don’t want to be people-hoping for 2 hours and spend 5 minutes with each of them. They may get the feeling you are only interested in getting their card and run, which you don’t really want to (or probably you do, but you should make an effort to seem interested in them) and so the  next time they will be the ones running away from you.

To avoid this card-and-run approach, there are two things you need to consider before the event.

A)  You’d rather speak to two or three new people you are genuinely interested in rather than to 20 you’re not. You are more likely to establish long-term professional links this way than just by accumulating tons of business cards from people you have only spoken to for less than 5 minutes.

B)  Just ask yourself how you would feel if the person you are talking to doesn’t seem the least bit interested in you and looks around like wanting to escape as soon as possible. Right, that’s what we mean.

– To weigh down your interlocutors with your speech, not giving them the chance to express themselves.

One of the most frequent mistakes we all make is that of focusing on one’s immediate needs rather than trying to build long-term relationships. How many times have you come across somebody who, after exchanging greetings, begins a never-ending exposition of what their company do, how big they are, the list of endless countries they are in…?

Right. Let us tell you a secret: this is not only annoying, but useless as the listener is likely to drift away after the first 30 seconds if he is not allowed to interact. You should aim to be part of a conversation, contributing in an inclusive way, rather than self-centred.  Networking is also about adding value, but if you never give your contacts the chance to interact with you, explaining in turn what they do, you will never fully understand the potential of your network.

– Not maintaining your network.

Last but definitely not least by any means, the greatest mistake you can ever make is not maintaining your network. Think about it as something you have dedicated time and interest in building up, and now you have to cherish it accordingly.

This does not mean calling each and every one of your contacts on a daily basis, but rather not allow too much time pass without hearing from them.  With our busy lives, this may seem difficult to achieve, but remember that a 15 minute catch-up at events is always welcome and it still allows you plenty of time to meet other attendees.

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There are many more things we could add to this list, but you probably have your own “top common mistakes” so we’d love that you could share them with us. Let us know if you also agree with any of the above or if you have found yourself in a similar situation to those described.

Keep posted for a forthcoming post with tips to work a room and become the king of networking!

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