I’ve been to my fair share of networking events, sometimes as the speaker and sometimes as a fellow participant. From each vantage point, I’ve witnessed many impressive, thoughtful, and incredibly beneficial interactions.
I’ve also seen some embarrassing networking flops. Some are so bad that you just want to rush in and airlift the person out of that moment, so he doesn’t do or say something so unfixable that he becomes terrified to ever attend a networking event again.
Most flops, however, are really just awkward moments from which—with a bit of effort—you can recover.
What are the most common violations?
1. Interrupting a Conversation and Getting “The Look” Once You’ve Barged Your Way In
This is usually such an innocent mistake. We’ve all been schooled to jump into a networking event and meet as many people as we can. Reach out! Work the room! Shake hands! And so, in our eagerness, we might poke our heads into an in-progress conversation, only to find there’s no easy way to integrate ourselves. What do you do if you land yourself in this spot?
First, don’t just stand there and stare at people. It’s weird for everyone involved. If you’ve entered a conversation with specific interest in meeting someone, quickly look that person in the eye and say something like, “Hi Jim. I’m not here to interrupt, but I noticed you work in finance for Intel. May I chat with you for a just quick minute when you’re done here?”
That will likely gain you more focused time with someone of interest, not to mention get you out of an uncomfortable moment.
(Related: Here are some non-awkward networking conversation starters.)
2. Body-Blocking Someone Out of Your Conversation
This is the exact opposite of #1. You wouldn’t like it if someone shut you out just as you were approaching a group of interest, so don’t be the one who does it to others. But what happens if you realize you’ve done it inadvertently?
Open sesame, for crying out loud. Stop right where you are, open up your body, and invite that person in. Be deliberately apologetic, introduce yourself, and ask the person something about herself.
3. Realizing That You’re Me, Me, Me’ing the Conversation
Most of us go to networking events with our own agendas in mind. But almost every human would much rather talk with people who show interest in us than monopolize the conversation with their own obvious agendas. What should you do if you realize you’ve been making things all about you?
Swiftly wrap up whatever blabber is coming out of your mouth at the moment of realization, and immediately ask the other person something specific, thoughtful, and genuine. This means no, “Sooo, what brings you here?” type of cheeseball questions. You want to find something that demonstrates you’re interested or impressed by something specific. For instance: “I overheard you say you just got back from Chile? I’m fascinated by South America. What took you there?” And then listen. The most well-liked people are typically those who are known for their ability to listen.
4. Busting Out Paper Copies of Your Resume, When No One, in Fact, Wants One
Hi, I’m holding a drink in one hand and a little plate of food in the other. Do you see a third hand here? Did I ask you for that resume you’re foisting upon me? That’d be a no and a no. Don’t do this. Seriously, just don’t even show up at networking events with paper resumes in hand, unless it’s a specific job fair or something like that. But what do you do if you start to shove one of those babies in front of someone and then quickly realize you’ve goofed?
Poke a little fun at yourself, and then ask if you might email your resume after the event. For instance: “Ha! I’m so sorry. What did I think you were, an octopus? Let me tuck this away. If you’re OK with it, may I take your card and email you a copy later this week?” This then also gives you a great opportunity to follow up with someone of interest.
5. Saying That You’re Going to Follow Up, and Then Not Following Up
Look, you’re not going to be enamored by every single person you meet at a networking event. And there will be others you liked but don’t really see any immediate reason to further the conversation with. So don’t feel like you have to say, “Thanks for the card, I’ll be sure and follow up”—unless you really mean it.
Honestly, if you’ve committed to following up, I would. Even if it’s a quick, simple note that says, “Hey, I enjoyed meeting you last night,” you’ll look much more impressive than if you don’t honor your word. But for the next event, keep in your head that sometimes, a simple, “Gosh it was nice to meet you, I hope to bump into you again sometime” is more than enough.
Networking events can be awkward and nerve-wracking, to be sure. But rather than avoiding them entirely, you should find comfort in knowing that most everyone in the room experiences similar anxiety and uncertainty in these forced social situations.
And you should keep these tips handy for when a graceful rebound is required.