Considering attending a networking mixer? Don't make the cringey mistakes I did.

Looking back at how I handled my first few networking mixers is embarrassing, to say the least. I hate small talk, so my approach was rather brash. My beginner’s attitude was that I had to get my card in the hands of as many people as possible. I’ve learned a few things since then.

The first mixer I ever attended was put on by our local Chamber of Commerce. I was super nervous so I indulged myself with a glass of wine (mistake #1) before I left the house. Most events serve alcohol of some sort. Having a glass first was a terrible choice, because then I had one while I was there. That didn’t make me drunk by any means, but it did take me off my A-game. I definitely wasn’t speaking as succinctly and confidently as I usually do.

I walked through the door, a cool one hour late (mistake #2). Pods of people were already in deep conversation around the room. If I would have arrived on time, then I would have already been a part of the conversing crowd. This one was a bit crowded - it was held at a local ski shop so I had to navigate my way around racks of ski clothing and chatty networkers.

I made my way to the bar and with wine in hand, I turned around and scanned the field of people in front of me. I didn’t know how to approach these tiny groups, what to say, or how to say it. I literally had no idea what to do - all I knew was that I wanted other businesses to know that I exist.

I spotted a friend, rushed over to her, and we started chatting, which was comforting and a great warm-up. She introduced me to a real estate agent that she knew. She asked me what I do and I gave my first elevator pitch. It was terrible - it was completely focused on myself - here is what I do, here is me, me, me (mistake #3).

Since then, I have learned to focus on the problem that my clients face, and how I offer a solution. In Allan Dib’s The One-Page Marketing Plan, he lays out a really helpful formula for crafting a client-centered one-sentence pitch:

You know [problem]? Well, what I do is [solution]. In fact, [proof].  

I love this approach. It’s quick, simple, and provides a solution to a problem.

Ok, back to the party…

Hobnobbing with my friend provided me with some courage and I began walking up to groups as they were mid-conversation. I have to say, everyone was really kind. Each small pod I walked up to opened up and allowed me to join in the discussion. And here is where I made my next mistake.

This is so embarrassing - but I literally started telling them what I do and then I handed out my card (mistake #4). Now, granted, I DID get a client this way. But one thing I have learned since that first mixer was that what I should have been doing (and what I do now) was forming relationships.

What I should have been doing was asking more about their business. I should have been connecting with them on what they are excited about and asking them about their business challenges. What I should have been doing is taking their cards; not handing out my own.

People love talking about themselves and their businesses. It’s what they know most about and it’s comfortable.

So now, when I go to a networking mixer, I no longer try to dominate the conversation or pass out my card. Yes, if someone asks for my card I will give it to them. But I don’t give it out unsolicited.

By approaching marketing this way, I am also able to determine if they are even a good fit for me as a client.

I consistently get one new client from every mixer I attend which, to me, is a great return.

So - here are my personal “do’s” for mixers:

  1. Wait until you get there to imbibe.

  2. Arrive on time, or at least within the first 20 minutes of its scheduled start time.

  3. Focus on the client’s needs and your solutions and provide evidence when giving your pitch.

  4. Gather cards that you will use for follow-ups later. Resist the urge to hand out yours.

Now get out there and network! If anything, you’ll get a free drink out of it :)