Networking 101: What You Thought You Knew… But Probably Don’t

by: Kim Barclay

Remember back in the late ‘80s, NBC had a public service campaign called “The More You Know”? The messages focused on education, social awareness, storm survival and basic information regarding day-to-day life skills.  I think that’s what we need for our daily business and work related interactions…specifically networking.  Networking is a skill that isn’t taught anymore and you can only learn from experience.  People don’t practice it, therefore they are horrible at it.  I can’t tell you how many times I have attended a networking event and people will not introduce themselves to the people they are sitting with, nor did they bring any business cards.

Here are some basic DOs and DON’Ts you may not know to successfully engage people in any networking situation:

  1. DO wear a name tag.  Buy a nice, professionally made nametag with your and your company’s name on it.  Try not to wear the “stick-on” hand written name tags that are provided at most events.  They fall off and hand 001writing is often hard to read.  If your company will not purchase a name tag for you, most promotional or award companies make them for less than $20.  It’s worth the personal investment.  Just as important: WEAR NAMETAGS ON YOUR RIGHT LAPEL.  This is one of my biggest pet peeves.   When you meet someone, and you shake hands, you are facing their right shoulder.   It’s easier to sneak a peek at someone’s nametag whose name you forgot when it’s on their right shoulder.
  2. DO eat a snack. If you are going to be hungry, eat before you go.  You are attending a networking function to meet and interact with other professionals and to promote yourself and your business.  You are not there to munch on meatballs.  You cannot facilitate discussion if you have a mouth full of food and hands are fumbling plates.  You are there to make a good impression and put your best foot forward.  That is hard to do with onion breath and broccoli in your front teeth.
  3. DO be LEFT out. Before you say “huh?”, let me explain.  You should hold your drink in your LEFT  Although most of us are right handed, we also shake hands with our right hand.  You don’t want to fumble around to switch your beverage into your left hand, wipe off the wetness from the glass, and then shake with a cold hand.  Just make the conscience effort to hold it in your left hand.
  4. DON’T be a wallflower. If you are a shy person, or have problems speaking to people, this is a skill you need to improve upon.  Ask one of your more outgoing co-workers or friends to go with you.  Also, many organizations such as your local chamber of commerce have “ambassador” programs where they attend community networking events and mentor those who want to improve their networking skills.  Don’t feel silly to walk up to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself.  That’s what these functions are for….it’s expected!
  5. DO bring lots and lots of business cards. There is nothing more frustrating than speaking to someone you would like to follow up with and they didn’t bring a business card.  Again, if your company doesn’t provide this for you, it’s worth the small investment.  Websites like and will create them for a minimal fee, and even have free template designs if you’re not the creative type.
  6. DO keep it simple…very simple. When someone asks “where do you work and what do you do?” your response should be very, very basic.  For instance, my reply would be, “I work for Partners in Association Management, and I manage a water well drilling association.” Since the person you are speaking with can probably understand your response, it will prompt more discussion.  At that point, you can further explain in more detail what products and services your company provides and what your role is.  It’s important that you don’t try to make yourself sound important or rattle off all your degrees and credentials.  You will get much further if you let that come naturally in the conversation.  My friend, Robert, recently changed jobs and I asked him where he was working.  He told me he was working for CDK Global.  That’s all he said, because that’s all I asked.  This prompted me to ask what he did for the company.  He responded that he sold software to car dealerships.  Notice, he didn’t say, “I’m an account executive for the southeast region of…….and my territory is…….” His response was very basic and it gave some context to what products and services his company provided.
  7. DO build relationships. It will pay you back ten-fold.  Join a business association, your local Toastmasters, a professional service organization or a leads group.  These are all different blogkinds of groups, but networking is the core.  Remember, you are there to build relationships with other professionals that could possibly bring you business in the future.  Don’t be greedy and expect someone to give you a huge lead your first week there.  They have to get to know you, your professionalism and ethics.  Don’t be surprised if it takes up to a year to receive a good lead or recommendation.  Also, you may never get any referrals directly from your group.  But it’s all about who knows who.  Someone knows someone who knows someone else.

I have learned all these elements from my 25 years in association work and community volunteerism.  This will arm any amateur networker with the tools needed to successfully “meet and greet” and build professional relationships that will carry on long into the future.  They have proven to be the foundation of my success.


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