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Wisdom tells us we can learn a lot from our mistakes — and the mistakes of others. So to cap off 2023, I’m sharing a list of ten networking mistakes I see frequently. See if you recognize or are guilty of practicing any of them. (And yes, I freely admit I’ve made some of these blunders over the years. But after writing two award-winning books on the topics of conversation and connection, I’m a lot more socially savvy now. I want you to be as well.)  Let’s dive in…

Ten of the biggest networking mistakes are: 

  1. Avoiding networking or social events and opportunities. One of our greatest instincts as humans is to be “safe.” We also have within us a “negativity bias” that makes unpleasant experiences, like having an awkward or unpleasant conversation, stick in our minds, seemingly forever. Many of us also prefer the familiar (good friends and family) over the new or different (acquaintances, co-workers, potential contacts, and strangers, particularly those who aren’t just like us). And yet, studies confirm again and again that social isolation, which we modern humans are getting dangerously good at, is as deadly as smoking. Getting out of our comfort zones and practicing some socialization (yes, even with people we don’t know very well or at all) may seem frightening, but it’s like getting out into the open air. It can feel so refreshing!  What’s more, it’s the #1 secret to building not only connections, but also having a happy, healthy, and successful life.  Who doesn’t want that?
  2. Not having vision, objective(s), goal(s), or intentions. Here are some questions we should always ask ourselves before we make an entrance into a networking or social setting. Writing the answers in a journal is excellent, but you can ponder these while on the way to the event as well.  Adopt this powerful practice and notice how everything begins shifting for the better.
    • What would make this experience a success? (Vision)
    • Why am I attending in the first place? What do I hope to accomplish? (Objectives)
    • What measurable “wins” am I hoping to enjoy? (Goals)
    • What do I intend to do to make this experience a success?  (Intentions)
  3. Sitting with people we already know. Such a classic “networking” move!  We arrive at an event, skip the mix-and-mingle time, and head directly to an area or table where we will be amongst our good friends or co-workers. Sure, this feels safe and easy. But it sends a clear message that we’re not interested in meeting anyone new.  Kind of cliquey and boring, if you ask me.
  4. Staring at or fiddling with our smartphones. It happens. We are in a social setting and need to answer a call or text or we need to check something on our phones. We should do so in the restroom or somewhere away from the group. Staring at or fiddling with our phones just as a habit, especially while someone is trying to engage with us, is even worse. It sends a clear message (yet again) that we’re neither present nor interested in connecting. Put your phone away and get into a real conversation!
  5. Assuming people won’t like us. Holding on to this mindset can literally make others feel uncomfortable in our presence. That’s right. We may not know it, but we’re giving off a “vibe” that others can pick up on — and it’s not a friendly one.  We appear nervous, unsettled, fidgety. Our eyes are staring at the floor or darting around the room. We can’t think of anything to say. It gets awkward for everyone. Let’s get out of our heads and into the moment and conversation. Let’s show interest in others by asking questions. Let’s assume we are likable and do likable things. Voila! We’ll most likely BE likable!
  6. Showing up only as our job titles or business brands. Don’t you hate those conversations where the first and only question is a very unenthusiastic “So…what do you do?” Job titles and canned elevator pitches are exchanged. Yawn. You can just feel the exchange going…flat. The truth is, people like to get to know, do business with, and refer other people. But we’re talking real people. People with both professional lives and lives beyond work. So let’s be ready to talk (and ask others) about non-work-related interests and experiences. A great question someone recently asked me was, “What do you like to do outside of work?” A wonderful exchange ensued.  Another good one is to ask “What book or person was most inspiring to you this year?”
  7. Getting stalled out in small talk. Small talk is a wonderful place to begin a conversation. But a secret to moving into more interesting territory is to be proactive and to have some interesting – even unexpected — questions ready to go. Good questions show interest, initiative, and imagination, which are three very appealing traits. You can find plenty of good questions in the back of my new book More Than Just Talk. Or you can access the list on my website. Can’t link to what I’m talking about? Email me, and I’ll send you the list.
  8. Dropping a turd in the punchbowl. Of course, I’m being figurative here. But if we are guilty of “dropping” a negative, unkind, gross, inebriated, or inappropriate comment into an otherwise pleasant conversation, we’ve just declared ourselves the punchbowl turd. Ew! What a conversation turnoff!
  9. Overtalking or undertalking. Conversations are meant to be equitable and mutually interesting exchanges between two or more people. So we don’t want to jabber on and dominate the exchange nor do we want to clam up and make it difficult for others to get to know us. A good rule of thumb is to “divide the conversation pie.” Two people in conversation? Each talks around 50% of the time. Three? A third each. Four? A quarter each.  Another rule:  Talk for 40 seconds at a time, then take a breath and break. Let others speak. Can’t think of 40 seconds worth of conversation?  Time to practice with a trusted friend. Your social muscles need practice and strengthening.
  10. Underestimating the power of listening.  When we assume positive rapport, show interest in others, ask good questions, and listen well, we’ve just done something truly amazing. We’ve hit the conversation jackpot. Why don’t we do this more often?  We can, we just have to be aware of our conversation habits and areas for growth, make some course corrections, learn new skills, practice, and practice some moreIs it worth it?  You bet!

What else would you add to this list? What are you going to do differently or better in 2024?  Let’s hear it!

Want access to hundreds of strategies, tips, techniques, and insights that can help you enjoy better conversations? Give yourself (and someone you care about) the gift of my new book More Than Just Talk. It’s priced at just $24.95 and is available on Amazon and other online book retailers as well as at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. I promise you, the positive changes and benefits you will experience will have value way beyond that.

Don’t believe me? Check out what this reviewer on Amazon had to say about my book. (Pinky I swear, I don’t know this person).

5 our of 5 stars.  Interesting, fun, and very useful!  More Than Just Talk lives up to its title. This truly is a comprehensive guide to the benefits, uses, and strategies to develop truly excellent conversations. Whether you’re interested in advancing your career, deepening personal relationships, or improving your health, Patti DeNucci addresses it all. Her information is well researched and cited while being presented in a companionable tone that is fun to read. She provides assessments and exercises so that you can implement the various strategies in your own life. In addition, the structure of the book is thoughtfully organized such that, if there’s a specific area you’d like to work on, it’s easy to flip to that section. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to not only strengthen their communication skills, but their ability to genuinely connect with other human beings.

PS. I just want to add that I think it’s cool that the author did the artwork for the cover as well. Creative expression for the win!

— Reviewed in the United States on March 13, 2023  by Rachel S. Heslin