As I was reading a recent article on business etiquette, I could not help but find the advice a little old fashioned. It talked about excessive praising and keeping your personal life to yourself. I wondered how many people are so intent on following proper etiquette that when you meet them, they seem to have no personality. That inspired me to write five tips to making successful connections on your next networking meeting.
Tip #1: Be prepared - I always treat networking events as fact finding missions. For me, there is nothing more interesting than to hear others talk about what they do and how they do it. I understand that this approach will not work for you. Whatever you want to do, be sure that you have a purpose and that you know what you are doing. In other words, if your idea is to meet as many people as you can, your strategy will be very different from someone looking for strategic alliances. Set your intention, plan your strategy and stick to it.
Tip #2: Praise only when you mean it - There is nothing more annoying to me than false praise. And yet, many etiquette experts advice you to praise lavishly and specially when in a crowd. People can smell pretense and you want to stay away from looking like a fake. If you like something, say it. If you don't, keep it to yourself. If someone asks you and your opinion is not favorable, make sure that your state your point without hurting anyone's feelings or sounding arrogant. Whatever you do, don't spend the evening praising everyone on everything from what they are wearing to their correct use of grammar and everything in between. Trust me. It will come back to bite you later.
Tip #3: Keep the bad stuff private and look for common ground with the good stuff - We all have personal lives. Having different interests is part of what makes us unique. Many experts agree that proper etiquette means excluding your personal life from the conversation at all costs. I disagree. I do believe that we don't want everyone to know about the bad stuff that can happen in our lives. However, how are you going to find a new job if everyone thinks you still have the old one. If you want to move, how will you find out about the great new condos if people think you want to stay where you are. The important thing here again is not what you say but how you say it. Stay away from sounding like a whining, complaining brat and just make a clear observation about how things are going.
Tip #4: Being connected is more important than being perfect - It always makes me laugh when I see the ultimate in advice - Be organized - like it is the most important thing you can do. I am not talking about a mess everywhere, cars you can barely sit on or a purse that holds your entire life story. I am talking about normal behavior. Every once in a while, you are going to misplace your keys. Some days, your hairspray will not hold. Maybe one day, you will spill red wine on your white dress. To me, it is more important how you react to life little surprises. People that always have to be perfect, have a tendency to be more interested in how people see them than on what people actually have to say. I would rather have a conversation with a person who spilled some soup and is very interesting than with a person that looks perfect on the outside and hides some demons in their closet. They remind me of American Psycho for some reason. Don't be perfect, be personable.
Tip #5: Be yourself - The other four tips were a lead in to this. Nothing is more important in business and in life than to be yourself. Concentrate on the positive aspects of your life, figure out how to say things honestly and politely and have a good time. Networking is about establishing connections. Nobody wants to meet a person at a meeting only to find out they are nothing like that in real life. Let's face it, it takes a lot of energy to portray an image all the time. Better be yourself and let those that like you become part of your life.