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11 awkward networking moments (and how to surmount them)

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In a networking environment (or, really, at any event or party where there are others mingling around), sticky situations can arise. Here are some common potentially awkward moments, with suggestions on how to handle them.

See also: 10 networking mistakes to avoid

How do I shake someone’s hand (in the U.S.)?

Firm but not too firm, one shake, and eye contact. This goes for both men and women. I’ve heard about keeping both hands (theirs and yours) exactly perpendicular to the floor to not show that one of you is dominant. I wouldn’t put that much thought into it. Just be respectful of other cultures, use common sense, don’t hurt anyone, and don’t hold onto anyone’s hand any longer than you have to.


How do I introduce myself?

Most people struggle with this (believe it or not!). The reason? It’s unclear what to say or do next. Let’s make this easy! Start with your name and a “nice to meet you!” Then, ask questions about them. 

How do I start a meaningful conversation?

After introducing yourself, ask questions. Lots of them! But don’t ask questions just for the sake of asking questions. Ask those you meet questions that you would want asked of you. What kind of work do you do? Do you like what you do? Why? How did you learn of this event? What part of your marketing is working best for you? Do you have a target market? How do you get your prospects? How would I know if I meet a prospect for you? How can I help you? These are just a few to get you started. Tailor them to your style.


How do I introduce others in the conversation without being rude?

After introducing people you meet, give them the chance to talk about themselves. No matter what, take the time to introduce yourself or others when speaking in a small group or when new people become part of the group. It’s a good reason to interrupt a conversation and makes everyone feel important while you showcase a sense of leadership. 

How do I introduce others and gracefully walk away?

After introducing others, excuse yourself and offer to speak to them later. Remember, if you introduce two people for a specific reason (the financial advisor that meets the CPA), they probably don’t want to talk to you anymore. It’s your job to define why you’ve made the introduction and get out of dodge. They’ll both thank you later for it!


What should I do if I forget someone’s name?

Just ask! “I’m sorry; I forgot your name.” Be apologetic and self-effacing. It’s perfectly fine to forget a name, just as long as it’s not yours. Often enough, you may mispronounce a name (John Travolta comes to mind when he mispronounced Idina Menzel’s name during last year’s Academy Awards) but look for clarification. “Is it pronounced Idina?” Most of the time, if you’re speaking with someone and you forget their name, you probably never listened to it the first time. If this is the case, just say, “I’ve been talking to you this whole time. I’m sorry, what is your name again?” Or listen for the name the first time and repeat it. Periodically, use it when in the conversation and you won’t forget it – at least not for the short term. 

How do I ask for (or offer) a business card?

Offer to exchange business cards and explain why it would benefit both of you. It has to benefit both of you. “It seems we’re looking to meet a lot of the same type of people. Does it make sense to exchange cards and I promise to follow up so we can explore ways of helping one another?” If there is no clear cut reason for exchanging cards, then there is no reason to suggest doing so. Don’t feel obligated because you’re at a networking mixer and it’s what you’re “supposed to do.”



How do I write on someone’s business card without offending?

Always ask permission to write on someone’s business card – or use an index card. Where will you get an index card? You’ll bring a few with you! In certain cultures, it’s considered disrespectful to write on a business card. So I consider writing on everyone’s business card disrespectful. But if I ask permission to take a note and write on an index card, I appear both polite and prepared. Not a bad thing. 

How do I know when to end a conversation?

It depends on the discussion. Consider a time limit of 6-8 minutes or whatever you deem appropriate and don’t monopolize the time. After several minutes, if you feel there’s a good connection and more to talk about, make that offer or ask permission. “We’ve been talking for some time and the last thing I want to do is monopolize your time. Do you want to continue talking for a few more minutes or should I let you go and we can continue at another time?” If your conversation is over, don’t be offended. You’ll either reconnect or live to fight another day.



How do I excuse myself politely without offending?

Say, “Nice talking to you!” Then shake their hand and offer to introduce them to others if appropriate. If it’s a good connection and there’s a reason to do so, offer to exchange cards. If not, it’s over. Also, never make up a story. “I need to go home and change the shelf paper.” And never make an introduction just to “get rid” of someone that’s awkward. The only person that looks bad in that scenario is you. 

What can I do if I’ve done or said something embarrassing or stupid?

An apology will handle most mistakes — unless you said or did something disrespectful or mean-spirited. So don’t be disrespectful and mean spirited. Keep things light-hearted and fun. Be interested while trying to be interesting. Don’t form too much of a charged opinion over things if you can help it. Remember, behave as if you’re on a blind date. As you get to know one another better, your conversation can get more involved and you’ll be less likely to offend. Well, in most cases. 

What if you just don’t click?

You won’t click with everyone. Just keep the conversation short and sweet. Hopefully you have a good rapport with many of the people you encounter at business meetings and networking events. Those you meet tend to enjoy being around people. Hopefully you do too. But if it seems you rarely click or have an easy time talking with people, it would be worth it to get some feedback and figure out why. Work on challenges and strive to get better at connecting with people every day. It will pay off!

What are some sticky situations you’ve encountered? How were they handled?

For more from Michael Goldberg, see:

The 2 things that every successful business needs

Here’s the foolproof way to accomplish every goal

9 ways to improve your networking