Networking Etiquette

Martina New


How does it make you feel, when someone you just met launches into a full-on sales pitch? Probably not so dandy. It may make you feel the same way as those sales calls you get after 8pm all right during dinner, and you just want to tell them to go away.

When this happens at a networking event, it’s awkward. Someone just introduced herself to you, or you said hello and asked what she does, and suddenly you’re finding yourself trying to back out of the conversation.  If you’ve attended more than a couple of networking meetings, you know exactly what I’m talking about! 

I admit that at my very first networking event as a fresh business owner, I hadn’t yet figured out the best way of going about things. Somewhere I had heard or read that it was a good opportunity to get and give as many business cards as possible, and many business owners support that view. Because you never know whom you`ll meet, or whom they know.

Being competitive as I am, yet also feeling a little nervous in a downtown pub stuffed to the hilt with small business owners, I “worked the room” as much as I was comfortable. In between greetings, I excitedly felt the growing number of cards in my pocket and felt somewhat proud over how many I had at the end of the night.

Yet therein lies a problem. As Christel Wintels, franchise owner of the BNI Golden Horseshoe groups, shared at a recent big networking bash, some informal ‘research’ had shown that of all the people who attend any given networking event, only around 5 per cent are there to buy something, yet a good 90 per cent or more are there to sell! So Christel’s commandment is: Thou shalt not sell!

Just like any other set of manners, networking etiquette has its pitfalls. Understandably, we’re excited about our business or idea and want to tell as many people as possible. And isn’t it all about exchanging business cards with lots of new people? 

It is in a way, but of course certain guidelines should apply so that you are remembered in a positive way. For example:

  • Prepare your introduction. Have a well-rehearsed pitch or ‘infomercial’ of 60 seconds or less. It should tell the listener about your key services and main benefits to them. Make it engaging, use some intrigue.
  • Listen! Cany people “don’t listen with the intent to understand, merely with the intent to respond.” Make the conversation about the other person, and hope they’ll do the same.
  • Ask new people for introductions to other specific businesses, and also ask them whom they would like to meet. You will be a superstar if you can introduce them to somebody else you met at that event!
  • Wait for a break in conversation or an obvious end before jumping into a still ongoing dialogue between two or more persons.
  • Avoid introducing yourself to someone just as they’re putting food in their mouth. I always find this one particularly challenging to handle when on the receiving end! I struggle for a suitable and polite response when asked “So what do you do?” while I’m currently balancing hors d’oeuvres on a napkin, and trying to keep crumbly filo pastry off my face and clothes. Needless to say I also don’t want to talk with my mouth full. Maybe say hello to someone else first and come back later.
  • Be humble and accept the fact that not everyone will be interested in your business. Start a dialogue and then wait to hear if that person would like your business card or not. If they don’t prompt you, maybe they’re really not interested or in need of your service.

In any case, enjoy the event! Every networking event is a good opportunity to improve on and perfect your sales conversation, get a feel for which aspects of your conversation and benefits spark the greatest interest, and you never know whom you might meet and whom they know!

Just remember to leave the kind of impression you actually want to be remembered for.


Martina Rowley is the founder and operator of Beach Business Hub – THE co-working space east of the Don Valley. She combined her passion and experience in the environmental sector with her community engagement side to create a local work environment where space and resources are shared. She fosters and facilitates collaboration, networking, and learning for and with small business owners and new start-ups. Contact her at:, on Facebook and on Twitter

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