6 Social Mistakes You’re Making at Networking Events (And What to Do Instead)

This is a guest post written by Katrina Razavi.

Free three-video mini-course: How to Shut Up that Inner Voice & Beat Awkward Conversations

I used to think networking was bull****, until I actually put some effort into it and the following things happened:

  • I raised $100k in capital for my startup
  • I got a $20k salary raise from one phone call with someone in my network
  • I realized that the most coveted jobs aren’t advertised and got intros to explore those opportunities before getting three offers simultaneously
  • I got invited to VIP events where I met people like Arianna Huffington, Mark Cuban, and Dr. Dre

Suffice to say, I now understand how important your professional network is to uncover new business opportunities and advance your career.

In the years I’ve spent attending networking events and being a communication coach, there are a few social mistakes I’ve observed. They’re the mistakes that turn people off, keep people from approaching you, and learning about what you’re working on.

How can you build a network if people don’t want to connect with you?!

Today I want to share six social mistakes you’re making at networking events and what you should be doing, including word-for-word scripts.

So stick with me if you want to learn:

  • How to never go to another networking event without knowing someone
  • How to come across as charismatic and likeable in the first few seconds of a conversation
  • How to finally get people from networking events to respond to your follow-up emails
  • The “do’s” and “don’ts” of body language to make the impression you want to make
  • Why you should eat before going to the event, not during…

 Social Mistake #1: Going in Cold

One of my biggest fears I had going to networking events is that I didn’t know a single soul. In my case, I was usually one of a handful of women attending technology events. On top of that, I was young, inexperienced, and had massive impostor syndrome.

Going in without knowing anyone can be super intimidating. Sure you could invite a friend, but then they typically become a crutch. Going to networking events solo allows you the freedom to talk to whoever you want whenever you want. It gives you more control and if you appear friendly people are more willing to approach someone who’s alone rather than a group.

That all being said, you can prevent this!

What to do instead: Introduce yourself to the host (or a fellow attendee)

A few days before the event, reach out to the host. Typically you can find their contact information through their LinkedIn profile or on the website of the event. Send them a quick note introducing yourself and mentioning that you’d love to meet them in person. Here’s an example script that you can use to do so:

Hi x,

I’m looking forward to the event on Friday night. Thanks so much for putting this together, the attendee list looks awesome!

I wanted to take a quick second to introduce myself. I work in Business Development at XX company. I heard about the event from meetup.com as I’m looking to meet more startup folks in LA since I just moved here 6 months ago.

I’ll find you on Friday and say hi in person! If you need any help prior to Friday please let me know. In the meantime I’ve tweeted out the link to the event to help publicize it!

Looking forward to it,

Why does this work?

  • It’s light and friendly
  • You offer value by offering help and you proactively helped them by promoting their event
  • You now know one person at the event. When you get there, you can say hi and if there’s something you need help with or a certain type of person you want to meet you can ask them for a warm intro
  • You gave them a heads up that you’ll find them in person so when you do, you don’t have to start from scratch

 Social Mistake #2: Only Talking About yourself

I get it, it’s a networking event so you’re prepared with your elevator pitch.

But you know what people really love?

They love talking about themselves.

One of the easiest ways to get people to fall in love with talking to you is getting them to talk about themselves. “Humans devote 30-40% of speech output solely to informing others about their subjective experiences.”

Did you know talking about yourself is like having sex? Yep, it triggers the same reward centers of the brain.

In an interesting experiment, subjects were offered money if they answered questions about other people like President Obama rather than talking about themselves. Even with that offer, subjects were willing to forego the money just so that they could talk about themselves!

Most people think that the key to showing off your social skills is to dominate the conversation. It’s not, the key to social skills is affecting how the other person feels when they talk to you. People remember less of what was said in a conversation and more about how they felt after they spoke to you.

What to do instead: Put the spotlight on the other person

By taking a genuine interest in the other person you’ll be perceived as likeable and charismatic. Think of every conversation as an opportunity to unlock a mystery about the person you’re interacting with. Since most people will be focused on talking about work-related stuff at networking events, you can set yourself apart by asking about them in a non-professional context.

One of the best ways to get people talking about themselves is to ask them open-ended questions like:

  • Where are you from? What was it like growing up there?
  • What’s your favorite part about your job?
  • What’s your favorite thing to do on weekends?
  • I just read about [insert current event here] what’s your take on it?

Social Mistake #3: Being a “Business Card Collector”

You know those people who jump around networking events collecting business cards? Ugh, that’s the worst. Please don’t be that person. It makes you look like someone who tries to take value rather than providing it.

If you want to stand out and build authentic relationships, you’re going to have to go deeper than collecting a business card.

A year ago I was at a technology conference and was having coffee with a few of the attendees during break. In the middle of the conversation, a founder trying to spread the word about her business came by, introduced herself briefly and put one of her business cards in front of each of us and left!

We were taken aback.

She hardly even greeted us, she did not want to learn about us. All she wanted to know is if we could help her in some way and visit her website.

That’s no way to build a network. In fact, I was so turned off by her approach I left her business card on the table. I could tell those around me felt the same way.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a business card, but that’s not the purpose of going to these events.

Here’s what to do instead: Ask for permission to follow up (word-for-word scripts)

Alright, so it’s time to close the conversation. Now what?

If you want to keep in touch with someone, ask for their permission. By frontloading the work of getting their permission upfront, they’re much more likely to reciprocate their commitment when you do reach out.

Here are a few word-for-word scripts that you can use to close a conversation and ask to keep in touch.

  • I’m going to chat with a few other folks, but I really enjoyed our conversation. Would you be open to grabbing coffee in the next 2 weeks? Great, what’s your email/or may I have your business card?
  • I’m calling it a night, but I really liked our conversation about personal branding. I’m working on a new project and would love to share it with you. Would it be okay to email you? Great, what’s your email?

Social Mistake #4 Crappy Body Language

How do you feel when you have a conversation with someone who is:

  • Looking down at their phone
  • Crossing their arms
  • Looking in the distance
  • Not looking at you

Kind of sucks right? So don’t do it to other people!

People get so obsessed about what to say during a conversation that they forget about what their body and facial expressions are saying.

People can “read” your body language and it plays a huge role when it comes to first impressions. Humans are highly attuned to facial expressions since nonverbal communication was the main form of communication for our ancestors (before language was even a thing).

That all being said I want to share some body language tips that you should be aware of.

What to do instead: How to use body language effectively

Body Language Do’s & Dont’s

  • Smile- I cannot stress this enough. This was one of the biggest mistakes I made starting off attending networking events. I was so nervous and it came across in my face. Once I started smiling, people started magically approaching me! When you smile you send good vibes (via mirror neurons) to those around you, you look confident and friendly enough to approach
  • Mind Personal Space- Don’t be a “close talker.” Stand at a 45 degree angle with the person you’re speaking to rather than facing them head-on which can be a little intimidating. Make sure there’s at least one and a half feet from you and your conversation partner and make sure your feet are pointed in their general direction.
  • “Open” body language – Don’t cross your legs or arms. This is challenging, but if you can manage to keep your body language open you’ll feel more at ease yourself.
  • Eye contact – Maintain eye contact while talking to the other person. If you find maintaining eye contact difficult, try looking at your conversation partner’s eyebrow or focus on one of their eyes
  • Do not play with your phone – Isn’t it super annoying when someone you’re speaking with is obsessed with their phone while speaking with you? Don’t be that guy.
  • Do not look around/away – Although you may be at a fun bar or event, keep your eyes and attention fixed to the person you’re speaking with.

Social Mistake #5: Interrupting People

It’s unfortunate that I have to even mention this, but it happens so often! Interrupting people while they’re sharing something about themselves is rude.

As I was actively working on improving my social skills, whenever I finally got the guts to say something and was interrupted, I felt as though what I was sharing wasn’t worth listening to. It made me feel like crap. Don’t make people feel this way.

Give people the spotlight.

Sure, people may ramble or get on their soapbox but you’ll learn so much more if you ask them about why they feel so passionate about something rather than trying to interrupt them.

We’ve all seen that “one person” at a networking event who is simply waiting to talk about themselves, so they interrupt the conversation at-hand to do so.

Don’t be that person.

What to do instead: Fight the Interruption Urge

Sometimes it’s hard not to interrupt, for some people it’s actually become a bad habit. You may not be able to stop yourself in the beginning, but start auditing yourself. That’s the first step. Once you start identifying when you do this, you can then fight the urge. Stop yourself. Just let the other person finish.

If you do end up interrupting and identify it after the fact, here are some scripts to get the conversation back on track:

  • “Sorry Jack, I totally interrupted you. You were just talking about the client you’re working with, tell us more about her.”
  • “Going back to what Jack was saying, he mentioned he started a new business. Jack tell us more about it.”
  • “Sorry Jane, I didn’t mean to cut you off. You were talking about your new job?”

Mistake #6: Eating & Networking

You’re trying to have a conversation with someone, but there’s an awkward pause for ten seconds as your conversation partner is chewing and swallowing their food. Tick tock.

This mistake is minor, but I thought it’s worth mentioning it because it always comes off a little awkward.

Here’s why:

  • It’s not the best first impression to be chowing down while someone is talking to you
  • It’s a bit unsanitary to be shaking hands with people while eating food
  • If you’re eating and shaking hands your hands may be greasy or wet, not the best first impression
  • It’s a distraction for you and your conversation partner, it’s just one more thing getting in the way of a deep conversation
What to do instead: Eat before going

Simple. Have a snack before going to the event. Drinking at the event is fine, but pigging out on hors d oeuvres’? I wouldn’t recommend it

Conclusion & Free Mini-Course

This is a guest post written by Katrina Razavi, communication coach and founder of Communication forNerds.com. If you liked this article, visit her site to sign up for a free three-video mini course called: How to Shut Up that Inner Voice & Beat Awkward Conversations. It covers six secrets to social confidence, the #1 strategy to improve your life and how to have natural conversations…even if you’re super awkward.

Leonard Kim is Managing Partner at InfluenceTree. At InfluenceTree, Leonard and his team teach you how to build your (personal or business) brand, get featured in publications and growth hack your social media following.

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