Five Ways You’re Networking Wrong

by Peter Shankman

businessnetworkingbasicsA guy walks into a bar with a bunch of business cards … That’s sounds like the start of a bad joke, and sadly for the guy, it probably is. He’ll commit at least five deadly networking sins by the time he leaves the bar an hour or so later, and he’ll be none the richer in contacts. Here are the worst offenders, as well as how you can avoid them.

1) Stop looking for people who can do things for you, and start looking for people for whom you can do things! This is probably the biggest mistake we make. We look at networking as something that can help us. While it can, no doubt, this is key: The best networkers look at networking as “how can I help you,” as opposed to “how can you help me.”

2) Stand out! For the past ten years, my business card has been a poker chip, as opposed to just, well, a card. Understand, though, that standing out only for the sake of standing out can get you in trouble. In other words, stand out, but don’t be showy. Stand out because you truly have something exciting to share, not just to be the loudest guy in the room. And speaking of loud…

listen3) Networking events aren’t about talking. They’re about LISTENING. Hands down, the worst thing you can do at a networking event is to talk. I’m not saying go mute for the entire night, but here’s the thing: Most people at networking events talk about themselves until they’re forced to listen to someone else, and then, only listen to find a break in the conversation so they can start talking about themselves again. This obviously, is the wrong way to be. See, if you can listen, you can LEARN. You can gain insights that can help you, you can come up with connections and ideas that benefit not only the people to whom you’re listening, but yourself as well, by being thought of as “the connector.”

4) Don’t be a “business card ninja.”Essentially, you don’t want to be that guy who walks into a networking event, throws a hundred business cards at everyone in the room, and then bails. That card doesn’t represent who you are, it just tells me how to contact you. Only you represent who you are, and only you can tell me, through your words and actions, why you’re important. Once you’ve done that, I’ll gladly take a card from you, and will probably use it! If you just hand me one and I don’t know anything about you? Not so much.

5) I always make it a point to ask one specific off-topic question. Usually something interesting – “what’s your favorite hobby?” for instance. That allows me, if I want to follow-up, to have an entry point. Simply find an interesting story about their hobby, whether it be skydiving, knitting, or volunteering with animals, whatever. I can send them the article afterwards with a “great meeting you, thought you might appreciate this article based on our discussion at the event the other night” note. It makes for a much, much stronger email reply than just “nice meeting you.”

In the end, remember this: Everything you do is potentially a networking event, from who you meet, to the person who’s in the next seat on the airplane. The key, without question, however, is listening.


About the author: An author, entrepreneur, speaker, and worldwide connector, Peter Shankman is recognized worldwide for radically new ways of thinking about Customer Service, Social Media, PR, marketing and advertising. He will be presenting the opening keynote address on Thursday, April 7 at the NARI Spring Business Meeting in Austin. His website is http://www.shankman.com.

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