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Networking is an art, and something of a balancing act. Just like negotiation (see this post/video for more on this), networking is something people are often intimidated by, but have to deal with all the time. Now, you could just hide in the bathroom if you like…
But I have a better idea: don’t make the seven mistakes presented in this post, and you’ll be better off than 90% of people in the room.
There are a few key keys to being a strong networker, and it really comes down to knowing how to balance the conversation between business and non-business topics. As a solopreneur with a corporate background, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from many different types of people: CEO’s and C-level executives, directors, managers, legal folks, engineers, affiliates, marketers, entrepreneurs, etc.
Certain things are consistent across the board, while others are not. There tend to be more formalities and rules in the corporate world, while entrepreneurs/startups can be too casual at times.
As a rule of thumb, try to maintain a more professional tone, but make sure you display your personality. At the end of the day, we are doing business with people, and would much prefer to do business with people we like. If you walk away from a networking event with just one strong connection, you have succeeded.

Here Are the 7 Biggest Networking Mistakes:

1) Failing to Add Value

When you walk into a room, before you go grab a beer or coffee, immediately ask yourself one question: “what’s in it for them?”
Be default, we humans tend to think about ourselves first. We love people that are interested in us, because it gives us an opportunity to talk about the most interesting topic in the world: ourselves.
Approaching people with this question in mind is a game-changer. From now on, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, try to see the world from each person’s point of view. As you ask questions and learn about who they are, find out what really matters to them.
The second step is to add or create value. This ambiguous phrase took me many years to understand. Adding value simply means: giving, helping, or creating for someone upfront, far before ever asking for anything.

There Are Three Levels to a Person’s Evolution:

  1. The Taker: Seeks to earn/take as much as possible from everything and everyone (a scarcity mindset).

2. The Exchanger: Gives, but takes (and expects) something in return. Always keeps count and wants everything to be even.

  1. The Value Creator: Gives and creates massive value everywhere, all the time, without any expectations in return (an abundance mindset). Solves people’s problems and creates positive environments. If you ever meet a value creator you’ll know instantly. These people are the rockstars — only 2% of the population. If you find one, learn from them and do your best to be around them.

In a world full of selfish people, you will immediately stand out when networking if you learn to think in terms of people’s interests and add value.

2) Name Dropping

If they didn’t ask who you know or who you’ve worked with in the past, don’t mention any names. This “hollywood” style networking is useless, and makes you look desperate for credibility. If you have actually worked with anyone they know, don’t worry.
Sometimes a bit of mystery is a good thing, and they will hear from others or find out on their own. This is probably the biggest mistake people make, especially new solopreneurs.

3) Talking Too Much

Aim for at least 75% of the talking to be done by the other person. Yes, this means you’ll have to ask really good, interesting questions. There may be pauses, but that’s okay. Ask more questions and make sure you keep them talking. 
Maintain a genuine interest and find something you like about them right away. This is where you will uncover their needs, wants, and desires, which are all very important. 
A good networker asks the right questions and always looks for opportunities to add value. 

“If you want to be interesting, be interested.” – William Arthur Ward (Tweet this)

Most people (and by that I mean over 90%) tend to speak only about themselves, and keep bringing the conversation back to them.

4) Talking about Yourself without Being Asked

If you weren’t asked the questions like: what you do, why you do it, how many customers you have, how many Facebook Fans you have, how long you’ve been doing it, why you do it, how many dogs you have, where you went to school, etc. — do not start telling them about it. Do you go to networking events to hear that stuff?
Yes, look for ways to find things in common, but don’t start listing off amazing things about yourself if they didn’t ask you. If you’re being asked a question, it’s because they’re interested and that is when you should tell them. Remember to be brief and humble. Don’t show off, no one likes that. Leave your ego at the door. 

5) Not Knowing When to End the Conversation

Oh boy, this is when things get awkward. This all comes down to understanding body language, and social cues. If you are having an incredibly riveting conversation, then by all means keep it going!
But, if the person you’re chatting with is looking for an out, give it to them. I know that sounds a bit odd, but they will respect you for it. Some people want to meet and greet as many people as possible when they’re networking. 
So have a quality conversation, don’t look for quantity of time. When you feel it’s ending, be the one to say thank you and goodbye. Tell them you enjoyed the conversation and would love to keep in touch.

6) Asking for a Follow up When It’s Not Deserved

This is a tough one, but if you haven’t earned the right to follow up or ask for an email, phone number, or Skype, then don’t. Sometimes, you’ll have to speak with a person a few times before it’s appropriate to follow up.
If the person has offered to help you, or is interested in connecting, then always ask for a card or way to contact them. Otherwise, be patient and try again. This is especially important when dealing with influencers. 
What if someone requests something from you? Well, in this case you’ll need to determine if it’s worth your time. Most people have trouble saying no, and many people don’t know how (here are three ways to do it without being rude).

7) Being Too Professional or Unprofessional

Remember, you are networking. Most likely, there’s a drink in your hand and people have started to loosen up a bit. That doesn’t mean you should talk to this person like they are your old fraternity brother or sorority sister. Get comfortable, show some personality, but don’t go overboard. 
At the same time, don’t be too professional or stiff. Do your best to mirror the person you’re talking to (while also being yourself). If you want to build rapport then the key is mirroring their behavior, tone, posture, etc. As I mentioned before, networking is a balancing act. You are going to have to become very self-aware and learn about human relations if you want to be successful.
The single most important tip to networking successfully is this: have a genuine interest in the other person. If you can’t do this, don’t fake it.

Links to Resources

  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – An absolute class and must read. Everything you need to know on human relations and networking. You will instantly see results by following Carnegie’s rules.
  2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey – A highly regarded book that is helpful for both your personal success and dealing with people.
  3. Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi – Solid book on networking and making the most of your time.