I love attending networking events and have been attending them for years.
Networking events have been incredibly productive for me. I've acquired new clients, hired new employees, created strategic partnerships and even made some lasting friendships.
All of this was a direct result of playing by the rules and etiquette of networking and respecting the people I network with. Mostly it comes from an attitude of giving first, with little or no expectation of receiving anything in return.
There are many people who understand how to network and that's why I will continue to network for as long as I am in the working world. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who just don't get it. They're the ones who never seemed to read the rule book for basic human interaction.
Without naming names, allow me to introduce you to the six guys (gals) who manage to get under my skin at networking events.
The Relentless Salesperson: Don't get me wrong. Everyone understands that people attending networking events have something to sell, whether it is a product, service or themselves. But that doesn't mean you have to shove your sales pitch down the throat of every single attendee.
How often have you seen The Relentless Salesperson working a networking event? They spread their business cards like manure, hoping if you spread enough around something will grow. They talk to you just long enough to tell you who they are and how much you need their services.
My advice to The Relentless Salesperson? Take it easy. Pretend you have nothing at all to sell. Talk to people like you are generally interested in them. Begin with a general conversation. Get a feel for who you are talking with and, only when appropriate, gently steer the conversation to how you might be of help to them.
The Monopolizer: Making contacts at events with speakers is a wonderful idea. It can open doors for your business. It can lead to partnerships or even a new job. That's why there will always be a line of people waiting to introduce themselves to the speakers.
The Monopoizer abuses this privilege, droning on and on while everyone else is stewing. Though there is a long line of people waiting to introduce themselves to the speaker, the Monopolizer doesn't seem to notice or care.
When meeting with the speaker make your case quickly and effectively. The speaker will know, within two minutes, if it is worthwhile to carry on the conversation at another time and venue. They make these judgments all the time.
The Desperate Job Seeker: There are plenty of people out there looking either for employment of looking for a new gig. Many of them can be found at networking events. This is a good thing. It demonstrates initiative and a will to find that next position. As mentioned earlier, over the years, I've hired a number of people I met at networking events.
The ones I've brought in for interviews impressed me not just with their experience (you can always find that on a resume), but with how they carried themselves in a networking situation. They were good listeners, smart conversationalists, and passionate about their work, their hobbies, their lives.
The best job seekers I've met at networking events don't even give you a clue that they're looking for a job for at least the first five minutes of a conversation.
The Desperate Job Seeker, on the other hand, approaches networking events in a frenzied manner, looking like deer in the headlights. Such desperation is instantly recognizable and is invariably off-putting. People want to work with colleagues they like, so (and this will sound overly simple) be likable.
A networking event is not an interview, so don't treat it as such. When I attend an event, it is not with the idea of interviewing job candidates. Ask me for advice. Tell me an interesting story. Engage me. Accomplish that and I'll be asking you to come in for an interview.
The Gawker: There are awkward moments at almost every networking event when you are engaged in a meaningful discussion with someone and a third party walks to you and just hovers. While there will always be times when third parties will be welcomed into conversations, there are also times when people are looking for a one-on-one conversation.
Here's a rule of thumb: if you loom over a conversation for more than 10 seconds and are not invited to join in, move on. I was at an event very recently when someone hovered over the conversation for nearly 10 minutes. It wasn't just annoying. It was downright creepy.
The Interloper: This is the person who is welcomed into the conversation and then completely ignores one of the two parties. This usually comes up when The Interloper has targeted one of the two participants as someone they need to make contact with. They'll join the conversation, turn their backs on one of the parties and then try to deeply engage the other.
While this is nothing short of rude and is unacceptable behavior in any social context, I've seen it happen at virtually every networking event I've ever attended.
The Overbearing Drunk: I know there are many people out there who dread networking, hate meeting new people or are just terribly socially awkward. Some of these people feel the need to drink heavily to release their inner extrovert. This isn't just a bad idea, it is a terrible idea.
There's nothing wrong with having a drink (or two) at a networking event, but when one or two turns into three or four, the impression you make is rarely a positive one. While there's no question drinking can make you more gregarious, rarely does it make you more cogent.