Like every week, this past week I attended many networking events. I went to a visitor day for a large networking group at a lunch meeting one day this past week. There were about 100 people there with roughly 20-30  members and the rest visitors like me. It was a worthwhile event. I met some interesting people and learned a lot about the organization to help me decide whether it is the right fit for me to apply for membership. But there was one conversation that was unpleasant and stood out.

During the period designated for informal networking I introduced myself to one woman. She asked what I did for a living and I explained and then I asked her the same. She responded, “I offer enhanced roadside assistance services when can we make an appointment?” This was all in the same sentence and this was our first interaction. I didn’t know her full name yet. I responded that one of the reasons I bought my car from the dealer I purchased it from was because there was a 5 year bumper to bumper service plan which included roadside assistance and in addition I am a AAA member and do not need such services. But she didn’t stop. She kept trying to explain to me why I still needed her services and badgering me to set up an appointment. It was such a turn off. I felt trapped. I tried a few more times to respond with delicate “I’m not interested” responses but it wasn’t working. I finally just gave her a smile and walked away.

I was speaking to a friend later in the week about this encounter and she pointed out to me I should have given her my card and told her she needs my networking services. And my friend is definitely right. We’ve all been at networking events and felt trapped by someone who is persistent and aggressive. What is the result of that? Well for me, I was totally put off by this woman. I will not meet with her, recommend her services or even connect with her on LinkedIn. I want nothing to do with people like her. Her services might be great and even though I did not need them if she had approached things differently we might have been on a path to connect and get to know each other better. Then I would have become a marketing assistant of sorts for her. I have a big network and I go to events all the time. I’m more than happy to recommend my friends and colleagues and their services. But I won’t be recommending her.

So what should you do at a networking event?

1. Try to meet at least 3-5 people and have quality conversations. Don’t make a goal of giving out 30 business cards and thinking that was a success.

2. Listen to the people you meet at the event and learn about what they do. Don’t spend all your time with them talking about yourself and all the services you offer. There will be time for that later if you connect and start to build a relationship. Then they will be interested in learning about what you do and how to help you. They are not interested when you casually meet at a big event. No one wants a hard sell.

3.  Follow up with people you meet but don’t send them a generic email and don’t use the email as an opportunity to try to sell your services. Just follow up with people you think are interesting and want to learn more about. Also follow up with people that you can envision collaborating with in the future. And finally, follow up with people you have commonality with. An example-recently I met someone at an event who is in the event industry. When we started talking I learned she rescues pitbulls. I have a rescue pitbull and he is my love. I immediately wanted to get to know her further.

Keep these tips in mind at your next networking event. To be honest, I don’t feel I handled this encounter that well. I’m curious how others would have graciously exited this situation. Please comment with any tips you may have.

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