It's been said that it's whom you know that counts, which is what makes networking so vital to succeeding in business. While most entrepreneurs tend to be creative, possess strong leadership skills, and are extremely knowledgeable in their fields, a lack of soft skills can hold many of them back from breaking through to the next level. In fact, a study done by Harvard, Stanford, and the Carnegie Foundation found that 85 percent of a person's success is based on his or her soft skills.
Whether you are a networking novice or feel you are quite experienced, a quick refresher in networking etiquette can help you leave a lasting favorable impression on the people who matter to your business. Knowing just how to network can not only help you attract and retain more customers but also ultimately make you more successful.
- Honor the RSVP. Many business people believe their absence from an event won't be noticed if they are too tired to attend at the end of a busy day, so they decide to skip a networking function for a better option. If you RSVP'd "yes," not keeping the commitment is a sign of your inability to retain your word on bigger issues. If you secure a spot at a table or event, you are professionally bound to oblige.
- Have a plan. You are not on the guest list of a business function to fill up on the buffet food. Your host feels you have something valuable to offer and is giving you an opportunity to highlight your expertise. Make a point of doing your research before the networking event. Google the speaker, research the key players who will be attending, and take a look at their social media to see what you can find of interest. A small investment in time prior to the event can pay off when you impress someone with your familiarity on his or her recent media article or promotion.
- Smile. That's right--part your lips, show your teeth, crinkle your eyes, and send the message that you are authentic and engaged. A pursed, tight-lipped smile sends the message that you are uptight, disinterested, or uncomfortable in the situation. Your body language is contagious, and a sincere smile can break the ice and signal to the other person that you are confident and self-assured.
- Eat before you arrive. Spending the entire time going through the buffet line will only add calories, not contacts. While you can make valuable connections in the buffet line and at the bar, your goal is to make a favorable impression on several new associates, not to put a dent in the "all you can eat" shrimp bowl. Consider your handshake and the bad impression that you could leave behind when your right hand leaves a lingering smell of shrimp.
- Mix and mingle. Conversation should revolve around the other person, listening 60 percent of the time and responding, asking questions and engaging with the other person the other 40 percent. Use the person's name in conversation to help you remember it, in the event you have to make an impromptu introduction. Stay away from breaking into a conversation with only two people, because it will be harder to interrupt. Instead, walk up to a group of three, or one individual who will welcome the inclusion. Say for example, "Hello, my name is Sarah Bloomed. May I join you?" Engage for several minutes, but move on to meet others you are interested in getting to know.
- Put away your cell phone. Most of us feel lost without a connection to our technology, but walking around holding your smart phone is a distraction that should be avoided. Refrain from checking texts, sending a quick email, or taking a call when your goal is to make a connection and give your attention to those standing across from you. Turn it off rather than on vibrate, and if you are waiting for an important call, check your phone in private instead of in the middle of the networking event.
- Keep your right hand free. Hold a cold glass or plate of appetizers in your left hand and carry your purse or bag on the left side, allowing you to be ready to greet others with a handshake. It's a disconnect to have to fumble with food, change hands, and wipe off condensation on your pant leg before offering a professional handshake.
- Don't attempt to close a deal. A networking event is an opportunity to pique someone's interest while leaving a favorable impression. Consider it an occasion to open the door to a future relationship. Coming across as overly aggressive or desperate will do just the opposite of what you are hoping to achieve--which is to make a positive impression.
- Always greet and close the conversation the same way. If you greet someone with a handshake (the most professional greeting), make sure to extend your hand to say goodbye before leaving the conversation. Walking away abruptly or without formal closure sends the message that something went awry during the conversation.
- Don't slip out the backdoor. Before leaving the event, make a point to say goodbye to the host and compliment him or her on the great outcome. This is a subtle way to show your host you were present and accounted for and stayed for a respectable amount of time. You don't want to be the first to arrive or the last to leave--and definitely don't want to be caught slipping out the kitchen door to not be noticed by others.
When you attend your next important networking event, keep these tips in mind so you can avoid some common missteps. Remembering the best ways to present yourself will allow you to leave the right kind of lasting impression on the business people you meet.