I think I’m a pretty good networker, and after recently meeting some bad ones I’ve been thinking about networking a lot. It’s such an important skill, and with CALI coming up and AALL after that I thought it might be a good idea to offer up some networking tips.

These are the things I think about when I am heading to a conference or some other networking event and what I wish everyone else would know also.

1. Be yourself

This is the number one rule. Just about all the other rules derive from this one. Do not pretend to be something you’re not. If you’re shy don’t pretend to be super-outgoing-crazy-fun person. If you fake it I can tell. I may be too polite to call you out on it, but if you’re not honest with me we’re not going to make a productive long-term connection.

2. You have something very important to say

It doesn’t matter where you work, how long you’ve been working or if you’re not currently working, you have an important perspective don’t be afraid to share it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student and you’re talking to someone with 30-years experience, they have as much to learn from you as you do from them.

3. Have an elevator pitch

Here’s mine: I’m the Librarian for Emerging Technologies at Yale Law School. I am responsible for helping to manage new technologies and electronic services in the law library.

I am interested in meeting you but I don’t have time to listen to everyone’s life story. Be succinct, concise, tell me what I need to know about you.

Dear vendors: an elevator pitch is not a sales pitch. I’ll know very quickly whether or not your product or service is relevant to me. If I stick around after your elevator pitch then you can give me your sales pitch.

4. You are not a “dream maker.”

You are not a “thought farmer”, “dream maker”, or “guy who makes things happen.” If some company let you put that on your business cards that’s fine but otherwise please tell me what your real title is. And yes, I did once meet a business consultant who described themselves as a “farmer”.

5. You’re probably not that funny

“I’ll tell you the same thing I told a comic I once saw at a strip club in Reno — I’m not here for the jokes.” — Dr. Kelso from the television show Scrubs.

6. Don’t pretend you remember me

I’m good with names. I’m good with faces. Sometimes I can’t put them together. I meet a lot of people and your name, position, details may have escaped me for the moment. There’s nothing wrong with politely saying “I apologize but I’m blanking on your name,” or some variation. But don’t pretend like you remember me when you obviously don’t.

7. Don’t be offended but I may walk away from you

I’ll be polite about it, and say something like “excuse me but I need to say hello to someone.” Conferences are a time to catch up with old friends and colleagues. I am interested in talking to you, but if I see someone I don’t get to see very often I may need to excuse myself to say hello. I won’t be offended if you do this to me.

8. Don’t do me any favors

Every so often someone will say something like “this is a networking event so I thought I should come over and say hello.” Well thanks a lot. So you have no interest in talking to me, but felt like you had to because we’re at a “networking event?” Save it.

9. You don’t have to exchange business cards with everyone: use social networking too

Bring business cards. Lots of them. If you’re a student or unemployed order some at Moo. But just because you have them doesn’t mean you should exchange them with everyone. If I am interested in getting in touch with you after the conference I’ll ask for your card, if you want to contact me after the conference ask for mine. But just because I didn’t ask for your card doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy meeting you. I’m just as eager to connect with colleagues on the various social networking sites available. I have profiles everywhere, just tell me where to find you.

10. If you see me, say hello. I’d be very happy to meet you. I’m easy to talk to, I accept fist-bumps in addition to hand shakes, and even once had a motherly vendor rep pinch my cheek.

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Jason, I agree with a lot of what you say. But a “top 10” is always going to be lacking something! I would just like to see a note to the effect of “being prepared” and maximising your time at events. Read delegate and exhibitor lists in advance (if supplied), and make a list of who you would like to meet with. This might save time in touring exhibitions and leave more time for informal networking. You may even be able make advanced arrangement to meet with delegates in similar roles to you, potential benchmarking partners etc.

June 23, 2009 6:46 pm

Awesome list, Jason – both funny and wise. I particularly like #2: “You have something very important to say.” But I think it goes well beyond conferences–it’s true of your professional life as a whole.

June 25, 2009 2:11 pm

Great list. I like #6 especially. I meet a lot of people and it takes a while for names/faces and stories to accumulate in my head. Usually it takes some kind of deeper conversation than the average meet and greet allows. I wouldn’t be offended if others were honest about how much they remember me in return.

July 9, 2009 11:24 am

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