You're probably not going to avoid awkward networking situations entirely, no matter how hard you try--at some point, you will get cornered by the one person in the room who just can't resist making a sales pitch.
But what you can do is ensure that you aren't the one making others cringe, and that you're focusing whatever face time you do get on building real relationships. So before you grab that stack of business cards, read these 13 networking don'ts from members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC):
1. Don't go to networking events with friends.
Too often, people are intimidated by networking events, so they ask friends to come along. Then they spend the whole event talking to no one but the people they already know. I try to make a point to go to networking events by myself when I can. This forces me to branch out and meet new people, and I've made some really amazing connections this way.--Allie Siarto, Fare Oak
2. Don't try to meet everyone in sight; curate connections instead.
I used to introduce myself to lots of people at networking events, gathering business cards so I could call them later. Then I realized that a brief conversation doesn't really develop a relationship, and calling people you've only met briefly isn't much different from cold calling them. Now, I make sure to spend good quality time with a few people rather than a little time with a lot of people.--Vladimir Gendelman, Company Folders, Inc.
3. Don't forget to follow up.
Follow up with the people you connect with. Do something to maintain that connection. Add their contact information to your address book or add them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Whatever it is, do something to keep that connection alive.--Lane Campbell, Syntress SCDT
4. Don't waste time with sales-oriented people.
5. Don't be a stalker.
I never practice stalker networking, which may be defined as endlessly pursuing contact with someone who has not responded to you. I follow the 3/6 rule of networking: Contact a new person (online, never by phone) three times in a period of six weeks. If you don't hear back, move on to someone more receptive.--Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work
6. Don't network.
Networking is completely useless. I would much prefer to get in the trenches with people. That's not networking, that's getting to know what people are made of through action and behavior, not cocktails and small talk. When I go to a conference, it's because I want a seat at the table there. When I attend an event, it's to learn and teach. I often take time to help people, but I never "network."--Corey Blake, Round Table Companies
7. Don't interrupt. Ever.
Think about all the times you've been interrupted. It's not fun. Actively and patiently listening communicates that you respect the other person and are giving them the gift of your attention and presence. People can tell, and they appreciate it.--Andrew Thomas, SkyBell Technologies, Inc.
8. Don't be intimidated.
Even the most awe-inspiring, powerful, and successful people are just that … people. You probably have a lot to learn from them, but there's sure to be something that they can learn from you, too.--Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh Inc
9. Don't be a card spammer.
It's never a good idea to work a room by handing out your cards or to quickly toss your card to someone who's not asked for it (it will likely get thrown away in that case). It's important to build a rapport with someone before you take the step of offering a card or asking for a further action like a meeting.--Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40/Finance Whiz Kids
10. Don't talk so much.
11. Don't be subtle. Be explicit.
When a lot of people network, they're afraid to step up and accomplish what they want to do or say. As somebody who's sometimes on the other side of that, it's annoying. When people are clear with me and tell me exactly what they want, I always want to help. When somebody's trying to be subtle, it hurts my ability to provide whatever benefit they're looking to achieve in the networking.--Dan Price, Gravity Payments
12. Don't ask to "pick my brain."
The problem with asking, "Can I pick your brain?" is that it's extremely vague and frankly, it doesn't sound all that appealing. If you're going to make a request to someone for their time and look to build a long-term relationship, be specific about what you would like to discuss in your informational meeting, cocktail, or coffee. You'll get a lot more people saying yes to your request.--Antonio Neves, THINQACTION