Networking Event Etiquette

We’re in the midst of another exciting community season here, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to brush up on networking event etiquette. Merriam-Webster defines etiquette as “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” While that’s an adequate definition, I also like to keep a quote from Emily Post in mind: “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

Since we can all use some brushing up from time to time, here are some of my favorite networking event etiquette tips.

Practice basic manners

Some of these may seem like no-brainers, but you’d be surprised at how often people forget the basics:

  • Don’t talk with your mouth full.

  • Wait your turn before speaking.

  • Always say please and thank you.

  • Look people in the eye and smile

Offer a handshake

Make sure your handshake is firm, but don’t crush the other person’s hand. If you’re at an event with food or drinks, hold your glass or plate in your left hand to keep your right hand free. Don’t hold a cold, wet glass in your right hand or you’ll greet everyone with a cold and clammy handshake.

Be present

One of the worst things you can at a networking event is be preoccupied with your phone. Shut off your phone or turn it to vibrate. Don’t answer calls unless they are absolutely urgent. If you must take a call, apologize and excuse yourself before stepping away to answer.

Be mindful of other people’s time

People attend networking events to meet new people, so even if you’re hitting it off with someone, don’t monopolize their time. After you’ve spent approximately five minutes visiting with someone new, let them move on so you can both continue to meet new people.

Politely enter and exit conversations

Approaching an individual is fairly easy, but joining a group conversation can be tricky. It’s best to approach quietly, smile, and wait a few moments to be acknowledged by someone in the group. If you join a group and notice that one person is talking and everyone else is listening, you should do the same. Say hello and join the conversation once you have a better understanding of the situation. Never leave a conversation when someone is speaking. Wait for an opportunity, the simply offer a handshake and say “It’s been nice talking with you.”

Don’t be a wallflower

If you lean toward introversion, you may be nervous about engaging in conversation with strangers. But if you spend the entire time nursing a drink or staring at your phone, you’re wasting time, money, and opportunities.

Come prepared with a list of topics: current events, movies, and hobbies are a great place to start. Ask people questions. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, so if you spend most of the time asking questions and listening, they’ll remember you as an excellent conversationalist.

Be confident

Wear something that makes you feel great. As Deion Sanders says, “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good.” When you introduce yourself, state your name clearly, offering both your first and last names. Giving only your first name comes across as nervous and unsophisticated.

Bring business cards

Bring business cards to all networking events, but don’t just hand them to everyone you see as if you’re passing out $20 bills. Slipping a business card to every person in the room without having a genuine conversation is the equivalent of sending out junk mail. Wait until someone asks for your card. If that doesn’t happen, ask the other person for their card. Reciprocity generally follows.

Also, make sure your cards are accessible. You shouldn’t have to rummage through your purse or pockets to find one. Keep them in a case or something that protects them from wear and tear. A dirty, crumpled business card makes a bad first impression.