Top 10 Tips to Totally Suck at Networking Events

Top 10 Tips to Totally Suck at Networking Events

1. Arrive late, leave early

Hey, you?re a busy person. Who has time to leave the office early enough to allow for traffic? Plus, we all know that the ?best? people arrive fashionably late, right?

How about a different approach?leave yourself plenty of time to arrive relaxed and ready to meet others. Offer to help set-up; this is a wonderful opportunity to meet those who?ve worked hard to organize the event. They likely know many in the group and are well-connected themselves. And, plan to stay for the entire time. Not only does this let others that it is important for you to be there, you will probably meet more people, the longer you?re there.

2. Forget to prepare

You: Have you thought about what short snippets of information about yourself you?d like to share with others? If it is a sales pitch, stop right there. If it is a long, rambling history of your professional and academic background, stop right there. Interesting, sharp, crisp and with a hook that leads someone to want to know more about you ? that?s what you?re after.

Them: Many events publicize the list of attendees ahead of time. Take some time to review the list and figure out who you?d like to meet. Check them out on LinkedIn; maybe get in touch in advance of the event and let them know how much you?re looking forward to meeting them.

The Group: Some events are about lead exchange, some pure networking. Review the theme/purpose of the event to be sure your approach is aligned with the overall event goals.

3. Talk about the rude customer who really ticked you off today

Someone was mean to you today? The boss chewed you out about the stupid project again? Bet that put you in a happy mood and ready to meet new people!

First, breathe. Second, breathe. Third, breathe and get over it (at least, for the next few hours). And, by all means, don?t talk about it with those you?re meeting for the first time. They don?t know you and this interaction represents their total experience with you. How will they know if being tied up in knots is an everyday thing for you or if today is different? Focus on the opportunity to meet new people and smile! I know you know what a big difference a smile can make, so dig deep and show them your genuine warmth and interest.

4. Look over his/her shoulder as you scan the room for someone more interesting

Yeah, I know ? you think this is an effective time-management technique, right? Why spend your valuable time talking with this guy who has nothing to offer you when you could be talking with someone (anyone) else?

For starters, this is just plain rude. It?s like call-waiting, but in person. I?m talking with you, but keeping my options open just in case a ?more important? conversation comes along. Way to make the other person feel special! Give your full attention to each person you meet; you?d expect no less from them. Remember that the impression you make on this person is the impression you make on their extended network, which you can only reach through this person. Wow them, others will know about it. Dismiss them, others will know about it.

5. ?Oops, I left my business cards in my other jacket/purse/briefcase/fanny pack?

Duh! Nothing says, ?I?m a professional, trust me.? like scrawling your name and contact information on a napkin.

6. Talk, talk, talk

Showing confidence and pride in your work is important, but is yammering on endlessly about yourself the most effective way to get this across? Let?s review why you decided to attend this event, shall we? I?m betting that it was to meet other people. If you talk endlessly, the other person has tuned you out at some point and is politely nodding at regular intervals. This means that you?re really only talking to yourself and I assume that you are already quite familiar with your talents and skills.

An alternate approach might yield better results?Listen! Yes, share the crisp, interesting information about yourself and then listen. Find places to ask questions for clarification. People like people who are interested in them and who are genuinely attentive; not intrusive or stalker-like, but truly interested.

7. Mix up the person interested in a job with your company with the one you promised to connect with your real estate agent

Some of us have perfect recall and can keep the details of who said what and to whom we offered to introduce them to a famous colleague ? and then there?s the rest of us. Two things about the rest of us ? 1) we hate those with perfect recall, and 2) we take notes. The back of that person?s business card is the perfect place (unless they have one of those annoying glossy cards) for key points. Be sure to note if you offered to follow-up later with some type of assistance.

8. Bring sales brochures or resumes

Rude and presumptuous, plain and simple. Unless, this is appropriate given the theme/purpose of the event, don?t. You can always follow-up later with the appropriate material if someone is interested in receiving it.

9. Get too busy to follow-up as promised

It?s easy to see how this can happen. You get return to the office the next day and find that two of your employees have just resigned, your two projects are overdue and, oops, it?s your wife?s birthday and you don?t have a gift (yet). Who has time to follow-up with those people you just met last night? Here?s the thing?if you don?t follow-up, the person who loses is you. If you don?t follow-up on your offers to introduce your new acquaintance with a contact of yours they very much wanted to meet, not only have you not left the good impression you had hoped for, you?ve left a horrible and memorable one. If you don?t follow-up and connect with those you met on LinkedIn, Facebook or wherever you maintain your virtual network, you may very well lose potential benefits of linking your networks. If building a network of connections is one of your goals, meeting at an event is only a first step. After you?ve spent the time to participate in the event, why would you want to have that time wasted by failing to take the next step?

10. Add your new acquaintances to your email/newsletter distribution list

Your newsletter has an opt-out feature, so this makes a lot of sense, right? Even though you?re not really sure if they are interested in your company, you just never know where your next customer might be coming from.

No, no, no. However you?ve justified this in your mind, consider that many professionals consider unsolicited information (email, newsletter, snail mail) to be equivalent to spam and an abuse of their contact information. When they exchanged business cards with you, most of them did so in the spirit of networking; hoping that you?ll be able to help each other out when the need and opportunity arises. Most of them did not give consent to receive company updates or other promotional material. Unless they?ve asked or agreed to receive it, don?t send it. To do so often has the absolute opposite effect than what you intended.


  1. Napoleon Batalao August 31, 2008 at 5:51 am - Reply

    So true Irene! The last two are especially important. If you manage to avoid the pitfalls of the first eight, but forget to follow up… well, there goes your whole reason for networking. And the unsolicited email newsletters will only put your company in a bad light.

  2. Valerie Gonyea September 1, 2008 at 2:39 am - Reply

    You crack me up, Irene! At the many networking events that I have attended this year, I think I have experienced every single one of these pitfalls by another attendee.

    You did forget one other item….how about when you meet someone at a networking event who had mentioned that he/she was preparing for a big, important meeting. You follow up with that person after the event(because you always try to and, well, you are curious as to the outcome) to ask how the meeting went….only to get a response that amounts to a hardcore sales pitch….not even a mention of a response to the important meeting that you were asking about!!!

    Networking is a finesse. It is not about YOU it is about a potential RELATIONSHIP, hopefully a mutually-beneficial one. I think some people just really don’t get that.


  3. Irene Koehler September 1, 2008 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Napoleon- You’re so right. Why do all the hard work up front and then let your efforts go to waste by not following up?

    Valerie – Yup, I’ve seen them all, too. You’re addition is also worthy of being added to the list. Networking is not a ‘me-first’ activity.

    Thanks for the comments!


  4. Leta Russell October 20, 2008 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    Great reminders to what is important in networking. Attraction marketing is always about relationship first.

    Focusing on a few key contacts that can be mutually beneficial and then setting up future “face time” rather than just calling or emailing will really help solidify relationships.

    # 6 is right on the money. Attentive listening will make you stand out in the crowd.

    Thanks for the tips!

  5. Clara October 22, 2008 at 4:24 am - Reply

    Irene, this is well said. I think all of these pitfalls I’ve experienced or have committed a few myself, so this is really helpful for anyone who is thinking of diving in to the sometimes scary world of networking. Scanning…now that is my pet peeve but sometimes there are distractions, so I guess in that case, you would just have to say sorry and express genuine interest to re-establish the conversation.

  6. […] you’re not too familiar with networking, Irene Koehler’s blogpost, “Top 10 Tips to Totally Suck at Networking Events” will make that entry into networking bliss a lot less painful. The main idea is that […]

  7. Matt October 29, 2008 at 3:25 am - Reply

    Networking has recently become the foundation of my career and I LOVE this blog post. It’s easy to find countless lists of what we should be doing, but Irene provides a unqique and sarcastic approach to the pitfalls often found at networking events. As the owner of a Business Networking Association, I often want to call a “time-out” when someone fits into one of the aformentioned categories; however I refrain and hold the “nails to the chalkboard cringe within”

    Great Post!

  8. Leslie Sheridan October 30, 2008 at 1:56 am - Reply

    Excellent article Irene! I continue to let folks know about the fact that “permission marketing” has been the gold standard for marketing communications for some time now. Not only is it about integrity, but also respect.

  9. Irene Koehler October 30, 2008 at 3:20 am - Reply

    @Leta – Great point about attraction marketing. What a concept!

    @Clara – We’re all human. Like everyone else, we occasionally have other things on our minds allowing us to be distracted. When we keep a mutually beneficial goal in mind, we’re more likely to be forgiven for our weaknesses.

    @Matt – I LOVE your comment! Thanks for sharing it on twitter!

    @Leslie – Good point. Networking without respect is a strictly short-term strategy.

  10. Chandlee Bryan October 30, 2008 at 9:15 pm - Reply


    What a clever way to discuss best practices for networking. I especially like your tip for checking out lists of “who’ll be there” in advance. I am doing a workshop for a University alumni group which will include a group session on speed networking later this month and am going to forward your post to the organizers.


  11. Irene Koehler October 30, 2008 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    @Chandlee – So glad you found enough value in the post to pass it on to others. I also lead speed networking events and send specific tips to participants ahead of time. I plan to blog about it later, but am happy to share with you directly.


  12. Ron Amundson November 1, 2008 at 6:50 am - Reply

    This blog entry perhaps best illustrates my previous comment on age, tech, and life experience. A 15 year old may have the tech tools mastered, but alas, the lack of life experience aspect can well lead to many of the errors mentioned above. Sure wish I had known these as a youngster… had to slam my head into the wall a few times to learn them the hard way back then.

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