Networking is an important aspect of owning a small business, but many people make simple mistakes that can work against them. With conference season already underway, it’s important that you’re ready to hit the ground running.

Before you head off to your next conference, check out these 5 networking mistakes to ensure that you avoid making them.

1. Talking Instead of Listening

Seasoned conference goers will be the first to tell you to make sure you’re listening. A lot of people get excited at a new networking opportunity and completely forget to engage rather than dominate. If you are always talking and not listening, you’ll struggle to make real connections.

Everyone wants to be heard, so make sure you are listening and engaging without taking over the conversation just to talk about your company.

2. Thinking You Already Know Everyone

You’re there to meet new people. If you behave as though you already know everyone who’s there with you, you won’t make the connections you’re looking for.

Reach out to new faces whenever you can and remain friendly. You never know who else these people know and might be willing to introduce you to.

3. Always Eating Meals with People You Know

When you see a lot of the same people at conferences, it’s easy to gravitate towards them at mealtimes. The truth is, the meal is the best time to meet new people. These are longer periods to relax, enjoy food, and really get to know each other. After a workshop, you might only have five or ten minutes to talk and make an impression. A meal gives you at least 30 minutes to an hour.

Opt for tables with people you don’t know, and you’ll open up to a lot of opportunity. If you are nervous, as many of us are, pair up with someone you do know to sit at a table with people you don’t know. Having that one person can be just enough to build up some confidence and be engaging with strangers.

4. Not Having an Elevator Pitch Ready

An elevator pitch is a rehearsed blurb about your company and what you offer. It’s like a snapshot that gives people a glimpse at what you are about and why you are at that particular conference. While many people think they can just talk off the cuff, many times they forget to make important points, or they go off the path and into a different discussion all together. It’s really easy to do that when your adrenaline is up, and you have a captive audience.

Practice beforehand. Work with your sales team and get feedback on how you sound. Do you hit the important points? Was there a place you stumbled? Did you talk too fast? Rehearsing with others really helps the elevator pitch and can make your one-minute opportunity into a great relationship later.

5. Failing to Connect Ahead of the Event

If you check out the event website, you’ll likely find a list of attendees, and at the very least, the speakers. Most of the time, social media handles are included so you can connect and start building relationships before the actual event.  Many conferences often have Facebook Groups and Twitter lists specifically for attendees. Use those resources so you can get a good idea of who you’d like to connect with in person. If you already know a little bit about other attendees, it is a great way to start talking to someone to learn more and figure out how your company could help them.

In Conclusion

Conferences are meant to be a good time while networking for work. Relax, have fun, and have a good time. Remember that if you end up making the above mistakes, or any others, it’s probably not going to mean the end of the world for you.

The goal is to learn and improve every time you go to a conference. Pretty soon it will become second nature.