Hello. My name is Jeremy Powers and if you’re reading this, you’re already networking with me on some level. I’ve written this post because I’ve seen many a networking event go wrong, due to various pitfalls budding entrepreneurs have fallen into. I hope that this entry will help you avoid them.
The main purpose of networking is to make contacts and in order to do that, you need to make the right impression. You’re judged from the moment you enter the room, so keep that in mind at all events. Unless you’re very familiar with the culture of the people you’re network with, a handshake is a safe bet in most situations. Make sure to bring your business cards with you and offer then whenever you can. When someone offers you theirs, read the information on it and thank them instead of putting it in your purse or pocket right away.
If you can, try and get a list of the people attending the event in advance and choose several people with whom you really want to speak. That way, you wouldn’t have to wander around looking lost and ask random people about who they are and what they do. If you know who the other person is, mention where you heard their name – it shows interest and people appreciate it. If you don’t believe that you know the person, but they seem to know you, I suggest that you ask them to remind you where you’ve met them instead of stammering and looking lost.
Another thing you should find out in advance is the dress code for the event. The safest bet is smart-casual – little black dresses for women and a suit for men. However, it would be better to know for sure so that you aren’t too nervous about looking out of place. I would personally advise that you stick to darker colours – accidents with food and drinks do happen and it’s much harder to hide a stain on a white item of clothing than on a dark one.
You should also keep in mind the purpose of the event you’re attending. Are you there to make contacts with potential clients and suppliers? Do you want to learn more about the industry? Do you need funding for your start-up? Whatever the reason, you should remember it when you talk to people. Small talk is wonderful, but don’t spend three hours on boring a single person with a story about how a trip you took back at school inspired you to create an app nobody’s ever thought of before. And generally, you should try to mingle during the evening instead of talking to a single person the whole time. Put the “net” in networking – creating your own net, no matter how small, could be a stepping stone to success.
Now, onto the don’ts.
The most important don’t you should probably remember is – don’t get drunk. I fully understand the temptation to have a glass of wine to calm your nerves, and there’s no harm in doing that if it’s on offer. I wouldn’t, however, drink more than two glasses within a short period of time. It’s quite easy to forget your limits at a networking event, particularly if you’re not that fond of large crowds. However, making a spectacle of yourself by having too much to drink would not only ruin any impressions you were hoping to make, but you would also likely be a spectacle on the Internet. In this day and age, it’s quite simple to record a video and share it with whomever you want. If there are some industry players who couldn’t attend the event but would see the video of a drunk entrepreneur, they would remember who that person is for a long time, and you’d likely ruin your chances of them ever being a part of your net. So my advice is to play it safe and don’t get drunk.
Alcohol also leads to more conversation options, which can be a good, as well as a bad thing. If you know that you’re in danger of being out of line when drunk, I especially advise you not to consume too much alcohol. Even when sober, however, you shouldn’t change the conversation subjects to something controversial, especially if the person is from a culture unfamiliar to yours. Jokes are fine and good, but be careful and don’t be rude.
Last, but not least – don’t forget why you’re attending the event. I’ve said earlier to keep that in mind, but I’d like to stress once more that a networking event is, first and foremost, a business event. Don’t get too personal with people, no matter how attractive or charming you find them to be. You’re there to build professional relationships, and that’s how you want to be remembered by the attendees.