We’re all beginners at some point in our lives. We don't become specialists or experts in our fields by staying put and not trying anything new. At a time in my life when I was terrified of strangers, I made a decision that I was going to be bold and take action. Otherwise, I would have lived in a state of procrastination, staying in my comfort zone forever (and we all know that the really amazing stuff doesn’t happen in comfort zones!)
It didn't mean that taking those steps would be easy. There were many times when I wanted to cry, sink into the floor, pull the covers over my head, and disappear. But every time I took action, I was proud of myself for having done it.
So, to help you from making the same mistakes, here are the top 10 (there are plenty more) networking stuff-ups I made – and the solutions I’ve found.
Assuming I knew what someone was about to say and had an answer already formulated in my head. The most important thing when interacting with other people is having the ability to listen more than we speak. The easiest way for me to remember this is that we have two ears and one mouth. We need to use them proportionately.
Categorising or boxing people based on their profession and how useful they may be to me. I was pre-judging before I got to know the person – I failed to understand that each and every person has a far wider network than their workplace. It’s so important that we not judge people or disregard those who don’t seem as though they’d be ‘useful’. It’s amazing to hear the influence people have within a business regardless of their role, and you never know who else that person knows!
Trying to meet as many people as possible at an event but not really talking to anyone or doing it successfully. When we start out in business we are keen to share our passion and new projects with as many people as will listen. And often when we go to networking events we think we need to ‘work the room’ and meet absolutely everyone. But by using a blanket approach and gathering as many business cards as possible, we diminish our time to connect, reduce the influence we have on people's buying decisions, and deplete the value of our service. Instead, focus on making real connections – have real conversations with a smaller proportion of the room and you’ll find you make a bigger impact.
Giving out my business card immediately. I used to feel obligated to give out my business card straight away. I did it because that’s what everyone did, but just because something has been done a certain way for a long time doesn’t mean it is the only way. From my perspective, doing so encouraged unwanted spam and further connection with those who may not have had the best intentions. I now know that my business card is valuable and I want to make sure that the right people get first option. By handing it out, I am giving permission for them to engage further. Another key reason for holding onto my card is that the conversation should be focused on the other person and listening to them. If it comes out at the end of an engagement, it is a nice way to round off the interaction and move on.
Turning up to a networking event with either nowhere near enough business cards or none at all. This still happens to me occasionally – we all forget cards sometime! Luckily I’m able to make a joke about it. With the nickname of the ‘Networking Queen’, I can instead let people know it will be a good test for me if I get their cards instead and actually reconnect afterwards. By stating this out loud and following through, I build trust with others without even realising it. Another tactic I use is carrying blank pieces of card in my cardholder, usually for other people to write their details down, but I have been known to do the same. People have appreciated that as they know my intentions are genuine.
Sending a mass email after an encounter – it is simply too impersonal. The whole point of networking is to engage and connect well with others. We can’t do that if we are blanket canvassing – thrusting cards and/or marketing material into people’s hands without really getting to know them first. Instead, take the time to individually email each person you met or connect with them on LinkedIn, mentioning something you talked about. You’ll show you can listen and will reliably follow up, and make them feel appreciated at the same time.
Having a bad habit of interrupting people which causes them to lose their train of thought. This is still a work in progress for me, but something I’m always trying to work on! Regardless of our good intentions (in my case coming up with a good idea for them), this is not only considered rude, it sends a message that we may find the conversation boring and therefore jump to conclusions or want to speed it up. Instead, try to share your idea with that person when they have finished or when there is a pause in the conversation. Otherwise, use it as a great opportunity to reconnect with them at a later time.
Wanting people to like me and therefore trying to win them over rather than talking to those who were already receptive. As Kiwis, even human beings, it is natural to want people to like us. Science has proven that 1 in every 10 people will not like us, for any number of reasons. It may be the way we walk in the room, our clothes, our voice, or even our smile. What’s important to remember here is that there are 9 other people who are ready and open to talking to us. So why not focus on them instead of on those who aren’t nearly as receptive?
Because I’m extremely shy and therefore not confident, wondering why would anybody want to listen. Being incredibly self-conscious and always wanting to withdraw, I had to learn to step out of my comfort zone and allow myself to be vulnerable. What I have learnt in those moments is that if I step out and be brave before I feel confident, my feelings catch up with me very quickly. Fake it till you make it is nearly always effective!
Trying to approach a group of people and feeling like an outsider the entire time. I thought the quickest way to engage with as many people as possible was to approach more than one person at once. I didn't have any strategy though and was often left feeling isolated. I have now realised I am much more comfortable approaching one person as I have less anxiety. The only time I approach groups is if I identify someone I would like to talk to. In that case, I stand in the direct line of sight for that person and when they acknowledge with eye contact and/or a smile, I then approach and stand beside them until an appropriate time to speak. If you don’t go for that approach, look for other people standing by themselves – they’ll be glad to have had someone reach out and be much more keen to talk!
Making mistakes is all about learning, and it’s how I’ve become so confident with networking – although I still have my moments! If you think you’re a complete failure at networking and you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, get in touch – I’d love to help.