Meeting people is scary. It’s not easy to be comfortable at networking. It’s a skill that you need to work on. I spent a lot of time in the last few years meeting new people through volunteering, having coffee with people whose career path I have an interest in, and conducting interviews for Suitless Pursuits. But I am definitely not an expert networker. I’ve faced numerous awkward and embarrassing situations, which make me the perfect person to tell you what not to do. Here are some terrible thought processes that I once used before I changed for the better.
Bad thought process #1: I don’t need to prepare. I got the basic idea. I can wing the rest.
You should always be prepared no matter the situation (even if you go out to a bar). Understand what the context of what you are doing so that you do not get caught in an awkward situation. If you are going to a networking event, prepare so that you know what you want to get out of the event. Did the event organizer publish people's names? Try to research them beforehand. I once went to a networking event without any preparation and the people there were not impressed. I couldn't even coherently answer the most basic question of “why are you here?”
Bad thought process #2: I need to sell myself. I need to dominate the conversation with stuff about myself.
When I interview people for Suitless Pursuits, I always try to do some legwork by checking out their website and anything else I can find. With this, I know about their background, and I can ask specific questions. The same thing also applies to informational interviews. I once had an informational interview where the interviewer advised me to know my resume inside and out before I spoke to him next. Be sure to know yourself, know your purpose, and do the research.
Especially during informational interviews and networking events, people tend to talk about themselves a lot. Believe me; I used to do the same thing. I know you want to impress, but there’s a fine line between sounding accomplished and sounding stuck-up. For example, I once tried to pitch something to an executive of a company during my university days and he stopped me mid-pitch to give me some valuable advice: he told me that instead of focusing on all my accomplishments, I should be focusing on how we can benefit each other.
Through your preparation, you should probably have some stories and experiences memorized. Try to relate your experiences in a meaningful way rather than try to show off.
Bad thought process #3: I need to pick their brain. I’m just going to fire away all these questions. I don’t care, as long as I just get all my questions out there.
Although I did say that preparation is important, you should also be aware that whoever you talk to is a human being, too. You don’t need to impose by bombarding with questions in a robotic manner. I once went to a networking meeting where I fired question after question with no room in-between for the person to breathe. That person fired back with an awkward joke asking why I was grilling them. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ask questions, but you should try to get a read on the situation if you are being a little too forceful. Remember - at the end of the day, you're having a conversation.
Bad thought process #4: I don’t remember their name. I hope they remember mine.
This has happened to me countless of times in the past. I didn’t catch people’s names properly so it became an awkward game of trying to find out. I’ve been in meetings where I forgot the names of people and it was difficult for me to try to address them afterwards. Save yourself a lot of trouble and make sure you know their name and they know yours.
My personal method is to always ask for a name and clarify it right after. I will ask if they could repeat it again. I would also use it immediately once I got it down.
For example, “Sorry, I couldn’t catch your name. Could you repeat it again? Clara? Oh okay. It’s a pleasure meeting you, Clara”.
To get someone to remember my name, I tend make a story out of it. “My name is Lester. I’m named after an airport.”
The bottom line is…
I went through a lot of bad experiences, but luckily, I managed to learn from them. If you happen to have a bad experience at a social event, networking meeting, or informational interview, just realize what your mistakes were and work on it for the next time.
I gave you some general tips, here are some resources for further research: