Steve Mayberry Maine Childrens HomeI’ve attended many tradeshows, conferences, and networking events over the course of my career. For everything from a local chamber function to a black tie gala in New York City or Las Vegas, there is proper etiquette that all attendees are expected to uphold. First impressions are extremely important, and if you make the wrong one, you may be memorable but not in the way you’d hoped. To help us all make the most of our networking events, I’ve put together a little laundry list of tips to help us put our best foot forward and make the most out of our networking events.

  1. Make an entrance. At a tradeshow, convention, seminar or other business-networking event, everyone watches the door. Stand up straight, smile pleasantly, wear appropriate attire, and make sure your hair is groomed and presentable.
  2. Keep a stocked pocket. You will need breath mints, a pen or two, a small pad of paper and business cards at every event. I’m not kidding about the breath mints. Do not chew gum.
  3. Wear your nametag on the right side. Fun fact: it is best to wear your nametag on your right side so that when you lean in to shake someone’s hand your nametag comes forward so they can read it more easily. Also, be sure to tell them your first and last name. You want to be memorable. Enunciate; if you mumble your name, all is lost. Ask their name and repeat it back to them. “It’s nice to meet you, Mark.” You’ll be less likely to forget their name if you say it out loud. If they mumble, it’s ok to ask them to repeat their name. They want you to remember them too.
  4. Perfect your handshake and exude confidence. There is nothing that bothers me more than a weak handshake, and this applies to both men and women. I know it’s old fashioned, but when I meet someone and they have a dainty handshake, I immediately wonder what is wrong with them. Are they lacking confidence? Did they recently injure their hand? Are they scared of me? Do they think I have cooties? Lots of things cross my mind. I am so focused on the weird handshake experience that I cease to listen to them and begin speculating immediately. By the time I come back to the conversation I’ve missed their name and why they’re even talking to me in the first place. On the flipside, there is also such a thing as a handshake that is too firm. Don’t break my hand, jerk. That just leads me to think that you’re over compensating for something. A too-firm handshake shows just as much insecurity as a dainty one. You lose points for sweaty palms too. I’ll take sweaty palms with a normal, strong handshake over a too-dainty or too-firm handshake any day though.
  5. Become a friend first and don’t talk about business right away.Networking is more about listening than it is about talking. Ask questions and let the other person do all the talking. Work through some icebreakers and get to know the person a little better. The personal knowledge you gain through the icebreakers may allow you to have a little more insight into your sales pitch later on. People love it when you remember that they enjoy skiing, they grew up in Millinocket, and that they have two kids who have just started skiing lessons. When you see them at your follow up lunch meeting (where you will now perform your well-rehearsed, well-qualified sales pitch), ask them how their kids are enjoying their skiing lessons. They’ll know you were actively listening to them and that they are important to you.
  6. Have your elevator speech ready. If someone asks you about what you do or what services you offer, be ready with a 30-second sound bite to tell them enough about your work to convey key messages but do not talk incessantly about yourself or your business. Gauge their reaction to your elevator speech and if they seem interested or ask further questions, this is your opportunity to take the conversation to the next level. Do not make the jump too quickly.
  7. Ask the right questions. In sales and networking, the goal is to win people over to your way of thinking and the best way to do this is to get them to say “yes.” Ask leading questions that get your prospect to answer in the affirmative. This accomplishes two things: it helps to put them into a positive and motivated mindset and it also helps to position you in a positive light. You want your prospects to associate your face and your name with the word “yes!”
  8. Don’t hand out your business card to everyone in the room. You should only give them to qualified contacts. I can’t tell you how many stacks of business cards I throw away after a trade show from people who obviously weren’t listening to me and didn’t care if I was actually interested in their services or not. Furthermore, I didn’t give them my card and they didn’t ask for it, so there was no easy way for them to follow up with me. When you do decide to give your card to someone, it’s ok to ask for his or hers in return — it is expected. If you fail to do this, you’ve shown your new contact that you’re inexperienced in the art of follow up. People really do notice this, I promise.
  9. Hold your liquor. Sometimes we encounter networking events where there may be a cocktail hour or a cash bar. It is in your best interest to limit yourself to one or none. Be mindful of the messages you’re sending to your prospective clients and colleagues.
  10. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Our old friend Thumper held much wisdom in this memorable line from the Disney classic, Bambi. Keeping a positive mindset will do wonders for your ability to make positive connections. Don’t be critical or judgmental of others; keep your opinions to yourself unless they’re positive and sincere. Don’t complain. Personal, professional or otherwise, complaining shows weakness and it brings down the conversation. Above all, don’t give in to the rumor mill. Gossiping will make others wonder if they can trust you or if they may need to be extra careful about how much they reveal to you about themselves or their company. This will make your job of gathering useful information and establishing strong relationships much more difficult.