I don’t know how to say this… but you stink at networking.

Don’t worry, it may not really be your fault. Maybe you are new to the networking game or big crowds really aren’t your thing. Maybe you have been networking for too long and you’re starting to lose your game and you don’t even know it.

But don’t worry, your horribleness at networking doesn’t have to last!  Here are a few simple networking tips you can start using today.

You don’t know what to say

Networking can be intimidating, especially if you are a young professional just starting out, not used to networking, or just kind of an introvert (like me). Not being comfortable at networking can lead you to get a little nervous, tongue-tied, and unsure of yourself. To counter-act being a big bundle of nerves, come prepared by practicing responses to potential questions.

One thing that really helped me get more comfortable networking when I was starting out was practicing and fine-tuning my “elevator pitch” (a succinct summary you can drop in just a few sentences) for myself, my job, and my company. Practice it enough and you can recite it in your sleep…or better yet when you are super nervous in a room full of strangers. Having a good, solid elevator pitch at the ready can help give your conversation direction, give your new acquaintance a better understanding of who you are, and how you could potentially work together.

While you are preparing your elevator pitch, be proactive and game plan follow-up questions you can ask during a lull in the conversation. You are expected to show interest in your new friend after all.

You are too overzealous

While some people newer to networking may be shy and nervous, I’ve seen many veterans of the networking world have the opposite problem: they are waaaaay too over eager. These kinds of networkers are really interested in talking to people, but not for a mutually beneficial reason. They are way too focused on talking about themselves, all the “great” things they are doing, and way too interested in trying to sell you something… and they aren’t too subtle about it either.

Taking this approach makes your efforts ineffective at the end of the day. You are so caught up thinking and talking about yourself, that you aren’t really thinking about your new acquaintance, where your relationship works or even if they are a good relationship to have at all. They, on the other hand, are likely so annoyed that the only thing they are thinking about is how to get out of the conversation. I know, I’ve been there.

Want to have better conversations at networking events? Stop talking and listen! A networking conversation is a two-way street and someone trying to dominate the conversation ends up ruining it for both of them.

You have no follow-up plan

You can also stink at networking after the event is over. A great networking conversation can be wasted if you don’t have an effective way of following up with the people you meet. Not everyone you meet at a networking event is going to be a useful business contact but, that doesn’t mean you should totally abandon those business cards, and the ones that do have potential as a new client or a referral partner you definitely don’t want to lose.

Establish a rock-solid follow-up plan before you even get to the event, and once you have your stack of new business cards put it into place. Connect on social media, drop certain names into your email drip campaign if they seem like a serious potential customer, or simply send a personal email saying that it was nice to meet them and you should grab coffee (if that part is necessary). They may not be a new client, but everyone you meet is a new connection that you shouldn’t lose.

If you need a little guidance figuring out exactly how to execute your networking follow up plan or you are looking for more networking tips, I literally wrote about just that thing here!

You don’t inspire a follow-up

As much as you want to follow up with all the new people you meet, you want them to be excited about following up with you too. But, if you didn’t inspire them during your conversation, what is going to make them? Other than just talking about yourself or your business, come prepared to present or talk about something that will tempt them to beat you to the punch of following up.

What could it be? Well, it can be whatever you want it to be or whatever fits the bill best! If you are job hunting, have some way of linking them to your online portfolio. If you recently wrote a blog post, have a white paper, or recorded a podcast about a topic that came up in your conversation, let them know and give them the link to your website.

Inspiring a follow-up doesn’t have anything to do about you being interesting enough. It’s about having the goods to want to connect with you before you have a chance to connect with them.

Before you start shooting out your LinkedIn connections, take a look at your page: is it as good as it can be? Our friend Javed Khan recently joined us on our podcast, More Than a Few Words, and talked about simple hacks to give your profile a big boost! Check out the recording.