All the Right Words – All the Wrong Moves in Networking
I recall a networking meeting that I had a few years back with a high level gentleman who ran an agency. We had been introduced by a mutual friend and early telephone discussions suggested that there may be some business opportunities between us. I took the opportunity to stop by his office when I was in his city on other business. This was the first time we met in person. I was looking forward to getting to know him better.
While I was in his office, his cell phone rang. He answered it. He went on to have a short conversation with the caller while I waited. We resumed our conversation. His phone rang again. He answered it. This happened a total of three times. I was shocked at his behavior and wanted to leave his office, but I sat patiently, observing his actions and listening to my internal dialog which told me “There is no way that I would do business with this person. His behavior is rude.”
This is an example of saying all the right things, but having your actions upset the networking outcome. Taking a cell phone call during a networking meeting (or any business meeting) sends a very clear signal: you don’t matter as much as this ringing phone or incoming email. Sometimes our unconscious behavior can damage a potentially important networking connection right from the start. It’s called a bad first impression, and you behaved your way into it.
Below is a list of ten negative behaviors that you need to be aware of in order to ensure successful networking connections. I know that I am guilty of some of these behaviors and I can see their impact on people and relationships. Awareness is the first step to making the change to eliminate them.
1. Late follow up. I’m sitting here with 15 business cards from a technology conference I attended two weeks ago. I’m not sure what is stopping me from at least reaching out to these people, but time is passing. The chances that they will remember me from the conference are waning. At the very least, I could send a LinkedIn invitation with a short personal message mentioning the conference. “Better late than never” doesn’t really work in networking. Timeliness is key to connecting.
2. Sloppy communication. How you reach and communicate with people in your network is an expression of your personal leadership brand. You don’t want to send correspondence that looks like you pulled it out of the recycle bin or did a quick copy/paste route to save time. Slow down and take your time. Craft your personalized message. Sign your cards and letters in ink. Hand address your envelopes. Use quality stationery. Select a stamp that makes a statement (or at least creates a smile). You should give as much thought to your follow-up correspondence as you do your professional dress. (Oh, maybe we need to talk about that too!)
3. Showing up late or not at all to networking meetings. We are all overscheduled, but showing up late is a ding on your professional report card. This is perhaps my greatest personal weakness. I know how deeply it affects people that I care about. I know what a negative impression it makes on people that I network with. They don’t like it. My disorganization comes across as disrespect for them. What can you do about it? The best technique that I have found was oddly enough through hypnosis. Working with NLP Master Practitioner Mark Shepard, I “changed my timeline” and I become more aware of time and on time. The change in me was immediate and powerful. (Note to self: call Mark again. I think I need another session).
4. Overpromising and under delivering. In networking, you may find yourself offering to connect people. It is important that you follow through on these introductions soon after you promise them. Limit your introductions to one or two to keep your workload manageable. Find a quick/easy system for you to introduce people together. I find it easiest to do via email or on LinkedIn. Sometimes, I will mail the other person’s business card with a short note on personal stationery. The business card has all the contact information and is a good visual reminder to prompt action on the part of your friend.
5. Wandering eyes at networking events is so annoying. People who cannot focus on you for even a short period of time and are always scanning the room for better opportunities end up alienating people right and left. In my opinion, it is better to give your undivided attention to someone even if just for 2-3 minutes and then move on. You can find a way to gracefully exit that conversation to make other connections. (note: I offer 11 different ways to gracefully exit conversations on page 140 in my book Networking Ahead for Business).
6. Cell phone and technology distractions are a real turn off when you are networking face to face with people. It can come off as “showing off” your gadgets. You cannot be fully present if you are visually or tactically distracted with your latest mobile device.
7. Poor manners are another nonverbal communication turn off. Everything from clearing your throat to talking with your mouth full to chewing gum. Yuck! Do it on your own time, not when you are networking with someone you hope to build a relationship with. All of us could use a periodic turn up on table manners and etiquette. Check out Barbara Pachter, author and business etiquette coach. She calls it like she sees it.
8. Being too loud with your networking conversations and lacking discretion when in public. I find myself meeting in public locations for most of my networking meetings: coffee houses, restaurants, libraries, etc. I am often surprised by people who will have personal conversations so loud that everyone can hear them. Often they are on their cell phones, sharing the intimate details of their messy lives out loud so all of us can suffer through it. As your parents used to tell you when you were little, find your indoor voice and use it appropriately.
9. Having a lousy handshake is a crying shame and a real turn off in networking situations. The disconnection is instantaneous; people repel the moment they receive a loose or flimsy or sweaty handshake. Bone crushers are also a connection killer. Practice working on your professional handshake and become more aware of the impact it has on the interaction between people. Coach and mentor younger professionals in this important nonverbal business greeting.
10. Careless appearance is the final wrong move to be listed in this blog, but it may be the first negative thing that is noticed in networking. Your appearance is an expression of your personal leadership brand. No matter what your size or shape, you can find a way to wear clothes that fit and flatter the body you have right now (not 10 pounds from now). Do yourself a favor and contact an image consultant to help you shop for business clothes that work for you. Just because it’s on sale or in your closet doesn’t mean you should present yourself in it. Be more mindful of your personal appearance and remember that every situation could potentially be a networking opportunity. Dress up for life!
In many ways I am writing this blog as a reminder to myself about the things that I need to pay more attention to when I network with others. You may have the perfect pitch or a great :30 elevator speech, but if what you do conflicts with the quality of what you say, you will lose out. Being congruent and striving for higher levels of integrity in your words and actions will help you achieve the professional and personal success that you desire. Make the right move!
About the writer: Kathy McAfee is known as America’s Marketing Motivator and is author of the book Networking Ahead for Business and co-founder of PowerUpYourProfessionalImage.com. In her role as Executive Presentation Coach and Professional Speaker, Kathy helps her clients to become the recognized leaders in their fields by mastering the art of high engagement presentations and more effective networking and connecting. To learn more about Kathy, visit her web site MarketingMotivator.net. To receive free weekly networking tips, sign up at NetworkingAhead.com.