Making new contacts at a networking event can be invaluable for your career, so don’t make these small mistakes.
In preparation for your next networking event, I’m sure you’ve studied all the tips and tricks and you know the biggest mistakes to avoid. You’ve heard the warnings over and over: “Don’t have too many drinks,” “Don’t bad-mouth your boss,” and so on. You know what not to do and you’re ready.
However, I recently attended a networking event and was amazed to see some smaller faux pas you hear less about. While committing one might not mean the end of the world, they do make interactions just a little more difficult. Here are five simple networking-event no-no’s and how you can easily avoid them.
1: The wet handshake
Let’s assume you do not have naturally clammy hands. But, if you’re at a networking event, you may very likely enjoy a cocktail or two. Relax, that’s A-okay (just don’t overdo it, of course). However, if you’re having a mixed drink on the rocks or a beer in a frosted glass, your drink will likely end up sweating all over your hand.
What’s the problem? I can’t count how many times I’ve shaken someone’s hand that was cold and clammy because they were holding their drink in that hand. Nobody likes a wet handshake. Wiping your hand on your jacket or pants is also not too impressive.
Networking Event Tip: Simply try to hold your drink in your non-dominant hand. Another trick would be to switch to red wine or something that does not need to be cold. That way the glass will not sweat and you’re home free.
2: The indecipherable name tag
Some networking events issue name tags so you can display your name, company, or field. This can be exceptionally helpful as you meander through the crowd trying to find someone to connect with who has similar interests. However, if other people cannot read your name tag or understand what it says, they’re much more likely to simply pass you by.
You’re just one face in that crowd and you need to make sure you’re giving your best effort to be interesting and approachable. Like it or not, that name tag is probably the first thing they’ll look at before deciding to introduce themselves to you — or not.
Networking Event Tip: Print your name clearly, and don’t abbreviate your company’s name or your field. It may seem obvious to you, but the initials may mean nothing to someone who is new to the area. If there’s room, add your field or position on the name tag. That is a quick way to pique others’ interest.
3: Favoring fashion over function
It’s a networking event where you want to impress new people. That means getting out your most-stylish heels or put on that new suede jacket, right? Not so fast. Remember that networking events are generally held in a business-casual atmosphere such as a happy hour. Yes, you want to look good, but shifting from one foot to the other as you try to relieve your foot pain will end up being more memorable than your stylish footwear. The suede jacket? Go for it, as long as you’re sure that you will remain comfortable and not overheat.
Networking Event Tip: Dress to impress, but be smart about it. Understand that you may be on your feet for a few hours and try to be prepared for extreme temperatures. Regardless of your style choices, you look best when you are comfortable.
4: That fancy new business-card holder
I’ll admit it — I thought my new business-card holder was pretty slick. It was small and sleek and kept my business cards from getting those annoying little frayed corners. I wanted my business cards to be crisp and new looking each time I handed one out.
The problem? I had a small wrestling match with that thing every time I met someone. Could I open it with one hand? Of course not. I had to put my beverage down and flip it over a few times before I found the right edge, and then I had to pry it open like I was looking for the Holy Grail.
By the time I handed my card over to my new connections, I was usually blushing from embarrassment. Live and learn.
Networking Event Tip: Pick one, easy-to-reach pocket and keep your business cards there, away from anything else. Don’t use a back pocket in your pants because you will sit on them. A simple shirt or jacket pocket makes it super easy to reach in with one hand and pull out a card. As you collect business cards from others, put them in a different spot so you won’t have to sift through them all each time to find yours.
5: The unexpected “cheers” glass-clink
Some things you can do wrong and never realize it. Others, you know the second you’ve finished the act. This is one of those. After brief introductions to a younger gentleman who was working with the Veterans Affairs Hospital, my knee-jerk reaction was to say “You do good work. Cheers!” and reach over to clink my glass with his. How can you not respect the good people helping out our vets?
He looked down at his drink like I had just tossed a bug in it.
I didn’t need my wife to tell me I crossed a line. He seemed to recover, but the awkwardness hovered for a while — a long while.
Networking Event Tip: It’s okay to be personable and social, but treat each person you meet the way you’d treat a prospective boss. Keep it professional. For all you know, that person is a germ-o-phobe and you just ruined their drink.
Obviously, none of these networking slip-ups are going to be as devastating to your image as having too many drinks or wearing something inappropriate would be, but they do matter. As you stir up the courage to get out and meet new people, pay attention to what others are doing. You’ll see some small things that you think are brilliant and some others that are detrimental. Learn from them.
Meeting new people can be an intimidating prospect for some people, especially when you’re putting your professional image on the line. Avoid these simple little slip-ups and you can stack the deck in your favor.
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Photo credit: University of Exeter/Flickr