Networking is not an easy task, which is one of the reasons that we discuss it so frequently here on Zen.

Since I’m spending this week with my lawyers in Milan, facilitating their networking efforts at our Annual Conference, I have networking on the brain, and wanted to share with you a couple of the worst networking mistakes you can make, and how to recover from them. 

Enough About Me, Let’s Talk about Me

Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you – you’re deep in conversation with someone you’ve just met (or even someone you know well), only to realize that you’ve been talking about yourself the whole time! What to do?

The easiest way to recover from this is to wrap up what you’re talking about quickly and move on to asking the other person a question. Make sure it’s a probing question, and not something that falls flat or derails the conversation:

  • If you know the person, ask them something related to things you’ve spoken about before: ask after their family, spouse, favorite sports team, the matter you were chatting about the last time you saw each other, etc.
  • If it’s someone you’ve just met, this can be a little more difficult. Ask them a question about what  brings them to the event, whether they’ve done any interesting travel recently, etc. In the case of our members, this is a great opportunity to ask them if they’ve ever been to Milan before – if they have, ask them about their experience. If they haven’t, ask what they’re most looking forward to. If you’re speaking with a local, ask them what one thing in their city they would recommend seeing to someone who is new there.

Essentially, you want to shift the conversation away from you – this isn’t the opportunity to ask them about their recent travels, and then to turn it back to yourself to talk about the vacation you took this summer. You want to focus entirely on them, and continue to ask questions that move the conversation forward.

Obviously, bonus points if you can use the conversation to focus on business opportunities that may exist in theirs or your jurisdiction, people you may be able to introduce them to, or other ways you could add professional value for them.

One and Done

There’s two important pieces to this particular networking mistake – the first is promising to follow up with someone you have no intention of creating a relationship with. Not everyone you meet will be someone that you connect with, or should continue building a relationship with, and that’s fine.

In those cases, don’t offer to follow up. Just tell them it was a pleasure speaking with them, and you hope that they enjoy the rest of the event…and move on. Offering to follow up with someone when you have no intention of doing so is like telling someone “we should do this again soon!” after a bad first date – it wastes everyone’s time.

There’s no rule that says you have to promise to follow up with everyone – so train yourself to say “thanks” and move on when you don’t click with someone.

The second part of this is forgetting to follow up with someone you should follow up with – this can happen very easily with conferences, especially. You return from a conference, and you’re assailed with work and catch up, and it just slips your mind to send that person an email or give them a call.

That’s a HUGE missed opportunity there, so you want to guard against this kind of mistake however works best for you. Some suggestions:

  • Set up a calendar appointment on your smart phone immediately after the conversation (or even during!): Put a note to send them a follow up email for the day you return to the office, or a few days later if you need time to catch up. Add a few notes about what you want to discuss, and set an alert so it reminds you. Then, you’re free to forget about it until your alert pops up.
  • Use your notes or tasks app on your phone to give yourself the job of following up. Include the person’s name, contact details, and relevant information for the subject of the follow up so you don’t forget. This option is best if you don’t easily forget to check these apps.
  • If you’re not a smart phone person, make notes on business cards and let that be the first thing you address when you’re back in the office. Or send your assistant an email from the conference to ask them to remind you to follow up – even better, send yourself an email. Many of us use our inboxes as a to-do list, and sending yourself a quick note puts that task front and center when you return.

Networking works best as a marathon, not a sprint, so lack of follow up is just not an option – guard against it in whatever way works best for you!

There are many more hiccups when it comes to networking, as well as solutions. What are some of the biggest issues for you, and how do you solve them? Add your thoughts in the comments!