In the heat of the moment many of us forget what’s been written about the art and science of effective networking. When the pressure is on there’s a natural tendency to revert back to established habits and behavioral comfort zones. This is especially true for people who do not particularly enjoy networking to begin with, and would rather do almost anything — and be almost anywhere — else.

Don’t feel badly, you’re not alone!

“A vital component of what we do as executive coaches revolves around building effective communication skills,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching. “The ability to network in a capable and compelling manner, in a wide range of situations, is a truly valuable asset, no matter what your position in an organization.”

Whether you are attending an industry conference, a Chamber of Commerce dinner, or a company gathering, here are four handy “don’ts” to make your networking experience as productive as possible.

1. Don’t keep company with people you know

When we feel socially uncomfortable we tend to stay close to those we already know. A fundamental goal of networking is to meet new people and connect with people we’d like to know better. The overriding purpose of networking is to build long-term relationships to help your business and your career.

So don’t spend the evening with people you already know. It’s fine to arrive together and “warm-up” a bit, but then, separate to seek connections with new people. Setting a simple goal for yourself is a great motivator — “At this event, I’m going to introduce myself to five people I’ve never met.”

2. Don’t dominate the conversation

Extroverts sometimes fall into this trap, as do overly enthusiastic networkers who have decided to be “the most interesting person in the room!”

It is important to find a good balance between having a few interesting stories and holding court. No one will want to make a meaningful connection with you if you are using all the oxygen in the room.

We inherently like and prefer people who show an interest in us and listen to our stories. Be a listener more than a talker — be an engaged person who asks more questions than they answer.

3. Don’t just talk about work

At some point in your career you’ve probably been cornered at a networking event by a well-meaning person who only seems able to talk shop. Interesting people are well-rounded people. They are engaged in the broader world and can hold a conversation about hobbies, travel, food, culture, and other interests. We are attracted to people we find interesting. Be ready and able to discuss other topics.

4. Don’t forget to follow-up

Imagine that you achieved your goal: you met five new people at a networking event and you found three of them quite interesting and enjoyable. Congratulations! Now, what are you going to do about it?

The difference between simply attending a pleasant event and the development of productive and genuine relationships is follow-up. Connect on LinkedIn, ask if they’d like to meet over a cup of coffee to talk more, or invite them as your guest to a relevant seminar or industry event. You’ve done the hardest part of the work — the initial introduction. Now, leverage your momentum.

For more about networking read Arden Coaching’s article, “6 Proven Networking Strategies (For Introverts and Extroverts Alike!).”

To learn more about networking and executive coaching, contact us at admin@ardencoaching.com or 646.844.2233.