Decades ago, up and coming executives were sent to charm school or put through an etiquette program. Business society today has become much more casual, and young people aren't really shown the ropes of how to get along in polite society.
Despite casual dress and informal conversation, there are still unspoken rules of networking that should be followed if you don't want to offend. It's easy to scoff and assume the rules no longer apply, but most likely, if you are breaking the rules below, you are offending a few people and they just won't tell you. Worse, they're not likely to do business with you either.
1. State your name clearly.
The hardest thing when networking is to remember people's names. Don't make that already difficult task harder for the people you are meeting. State your name slowly, loudly, and clearly. Give them a small and intriguing piece of information about you to go with your name so they can easily encode it in their brain.
2. Always stand when being introduced.
If you are sitting down when someone introduces you, show respect and get up from the chair or table. Don't slouch. Present yourself in a strong and secure manner so you make a positive first impression.
3. It's not nice to point.
Watch your hands when you are speaking to people. Pointing and overgesticulating can make people uncomfortable, particularly if you invade their personal space. Be aware of the actions you take with your body and the proximity of theirs.
4. Watch your language.
The world has become more casual about swearing, but that doesn't mean you have to lead with the F-word. Even around your fellow New Yorkers and folks from New Jersey you should keep the four-letter words under wraps until people know you a little better, and you are more aware of their sensitivities. You @#$% get what I am saying, @#$%?
5. Keep your stories clean.
Sure, you might get a quick laugh with sex or potty humor, since most people can relate. But don't confuse their laughter with acceptance. You may certainly end up as the person they want to hang out with for a beer and a laugh. But don't be surprised when you are passed over for the contract because they don't want you around their employees and family.
6. Handshake, don't fist bump.
Some people may be irrationally afraid of transmitting Ebola. But in the U.S., a firm handshake with eye contact is still the proper greeting. Save the high-fives and fist bumps for casual communication and sporting activities.
7. Don't interrupt.
When the conversation gets going, so does your inner voice. And most of the time it's filled with all the things you are hoping to pitch. Don't let your mouth take priority over your ears. Let other people finish their thoughts completely. Not only so you don't appear rude, but also so their inner mind will quiet while you deliver something relevant.
8. Be interesting and brief.
Just because you like hearing your stories doesn't mean others do, as well. Be sensitive to others' body language to see if they are engaged or hoping to leave the conversation. The quicker you can make your point, the easier it is for them to ask you questions if you struck a nerve.
9. Keep your smartphone in your pocket.
When you are in the physical presence of other people, they should have your attention. Take the earpiece out of your ear, put your phone on Silent, and be present with the people in the room. You can check out Tinder or the sports scores later, after you make some decent connections.
10. Look people in the eye and smile.
I personally struggle with eye-to-eye contact. Not because I am ashamed, but I often stare at peoples' lips to help me understand them in a noisy room where it is hard to hear. That being said, I have been working harder to look into their eyes most of the time. I find it changes the entire emotional dynamic in a positive way.
11. Ask if you don't know.
If you forget a person's name or don't understand what someone is talking about, get over your embarrassment and ask. Better to be secure and a little embarrassed than get caught and appear insincere. Make a joke over your ignorance, and anyone worth your time will happily respond. Most likely he or she has been in that position at some point, as well.
12. Follow up within two days.
Anyone worthy of your time is also worthy of your expediency. Don't wait two weeks to follow up and let people know you enjoyed the conversation. And don't just pitch them when you connect. Send them something of value, like a relevant link, so they know that you were thinking of something beside your own needs.