How to Make a Horrible First Impression When Networking
Networking can be a source of invaluable connections and leads, or a road to nowhere. It all depends on how well you do it. If you’d like to improve your networking skills, there’s no better place to start than at the beginning. What kind of first impression are you making when you enter the room? Are you inspiring potential customers and referrers to get to know you … or get away from you? Here are several things to look out for, things guaranteed to make a terrible first impression on your fellow networkers.
The Horrible Handshake
Non-verbal communication speaks volumes, and it all starts with your handshake. Get that wrong, and you’ll be fighting an uphill battle all the way. The way for a business professional to shake hands is to offer a firm grip and look the other person straight in the eye. Don’t grip too firmly, or you’ll make people feel like they are trapped in a vise. Even worse is the limp, “dead fish” shake – you don’t want people thinking of you as a decomposing carp. Old-school etiquette says women should wait for men to extend a hand, but according to this recent Forbes article, women should have no compunction about taking the lead.
When you shake hands, give the other person your FULL name. Not “Joe,” but “Joe Smith.” A first-name-only introduction is weak. It signals that you’re not serious about your work and that you have no clout. Some people give only their first name because they figure the other person will pick up their last name from their nametag or business card. Sorry, it’s still a bad technique. First, the other person may or may not have the presence of mind (or interest) to read your nametag or business card. Second, it doesn’t matter. A first-name-only introduction still sounds amateurish and leaves a forgettable impression.
It’s All about Me
After the introductions, the worst thing a networker can do is launch into a monologue. Monologues are usually boring, and always off-putting. Why is that? Because people go to networking events to build relationships and exchange information about business issues, not to listen to the exploits of a stranger. The more you try to impress people, the less impressed they will be. A far better technique is to ask questions. What kind of business are you in? What did you study in school? What do you like to do when you’re not working? Questions like these signal a genuine interest in establishing a relationship and lay the groundwork for effective networking conversations.
The Hard Sell
Peppering people you’ve just met for leads, or pushing them to buy your products or services is so obviously counterproductive it’s amazing how often it happens. Nobody goes to a networking event (or pretty much anywhere else) to be subjected to a sales pitch. Overly aggressive selling is probably the most horrible networking mistake you can make, because it not only derails the relationship, it also inspires the person on the receiving end to warn others to steer clear of you. Very few will say, “Stay away from Joe – he shakes hands like a flounder.” But just about everybody will say, “Stay away from Joe – all he does is sell and won’t take no for an answer.” We have to remember that networking takes time, because it’s based on relationships. Perhaps down the road a contact from a networking event may (or may not) be the right person to lean on for a lead or an order. But at the first impression stage – never.
It’s Like Twitter
Five or six years ago, I wrote an article that tried to explain Twitter, a new social media platform, by comparing it to a networking event. Nowadays, the tables have turned, and we can learn about networking by comparing it to Twitter.
Like Twitter, networking events are quick, bursts-of-information exchanges. The exchanges may be one-to-one or among small groups. The better you know people, the more engaging the exchanges become. Too much selling or an off-putting style tends to shut the offender out of the conversation. Showing an interest in your followers is the best way to attract new followers and develop business opportunities with them.
In short, when networking, communicate as you would when using social media for business. Which brings me to a final point about horrible networking first impressions. Don’t get caught tweeting from your smartphone in the middle of a networking conversation!
Featured Image: Flickr user Opensourceway