If you want to go places in the world, networking is a skill you need to learn.
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Take it from me: My career was relatively ho-hum until I began attending conferences regularly. WhileI traversed countless expo halls in heels and made small talk over spaghetti squash in banquet halls, my networking skills helped my career skyrocket.
When I started Red Branch Media, I didn't have very many clients, but as I attended more and more events and social functions, people started taking notice. Through word of mouth, I was able to gain more customers, increase my revenue, and improve my reputation.
Networking can open plenty of doors for you – but it can also close those doors if you don't know what you're doing. If you want your networking efforts to pay off, avoid making these nine mistakes:
1. Drinking Too Much
Every corporate event has that person: rather intoxicated, very loud, and slightly less than polite for a business setting. Business etiquette has no room for the buzzed. Drinking too much can leave a bad impression – and worse, make you incapable of signing those deals that have to happen face to face. Leave the serious drinking to off-business hours.
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2. Being a Card Shark
Don't be the person who goes blathering on to everyone at the conference about how great their business is while collecting a stack business cards in the process. This is a bad practice because you only really intend to stay in touch with some folks. Don't sully your name by taking cards you have no intention of using. People will remember that.
Once you take a business card, it is your duty to follow up. Every. Single. Time.
3. Cold Body Language
Networking is all about tone of voice and body language. Facial expressions and eye contact are paramount – though arm movement and stance are just as important. Don't stand in such a way as to block people out from a conversation. Crossed arms signify boredom, and even if those heels are killing you, shifting from one foot to the other makes people think you are antsy (or need to use the restroom).
Be patient when waiting to talk to a group of people. A group of three or more can be daunting, but stand back and just follow the social cues. It is a good idea to stand just within eyesight. Once there is a break in the group's conversation, they will notice you. Simply ask to chat later.
5. Not Listening
No healthy relationship is one-sided. Don't dominate the conversation. Be present in the conversation, not the selling points. There is no harm in providing the company boilerplate, but don't get carried away and monopolize the conversation. The best salespeople know that selling happens when you shut up.
6. Being a Pushy Salesperson
Networking is a way to meet new colleagues, not necessarily new clients. Don't always use networking events as sales opportunities. Instead, view networking as a way to be a resource for others and maybe gain a few clients along the way.
7. Constantly Talking About Your Business or Yourself
No one – and I mean no one – wants to have a conversation that's all about you. Keep your business cards in your pocket until a meaningful conversation sparks the right moment. Not everyone is going to want your card. Asking questions or presenting the group with an anonymous issue you're working through are great ways to talk shop without turning people off.
8. Being Lazy
Following up with each of the new connections you make is just as important as following up with an interviewer after an interview. You may come home exhausted post-conference, but that's no excuse to leave your new connections hanging. A simple message on LinkedIn or a short email are easy ways to keep the conversation going, ensuring you take your connection to a deeper level.
9. Not Being Prepared
Never let networking be an afterthought. I prepare for conferences and in-person networking events as much as I prepare for speaking engagements and presentations. Come up with a networking strategy that includes a quick intro, an elevator pitch, and three solid questions you can adapt to any industry or conversation For instance, "How is your company planning to handle the changes in Google search?" or "What's your favorite productivity tool?"
Networking has been invaluable to my career, but you get out as much as you put into it. So put a lot into it.
A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.
Maren Hogan is the chief marketing brain at Red Branch Media.