When networking you should always be yourself. You know that. I know that. I mean, if you aren’t being yourself, then how can they get to know you, right?

Well, I had an experience the other night which makes me think I need to modify that dictum:
When networking you should always be the best version of yourself.
So, I was at a networking event for a local Chamber somewhere in southeast Michigan. It was a great group of people and I was making some good connections all around. Then I met Charlie.
Charlie was an insurance agent. In our brief discussion of his business he mentioned a recent success and some upcoming potential business that he was excited about. So far so good. It’s always fine to talk about the good things you have going on in your life. I asked him to what he attributed his success. He beamed and said, “I’m bleeping fantastic!” Except the bleep was replaced by the word which used to earn a movie an “R” rating.
Strike One.
I’m not a real prude about language, but some of the people to whom I might have referred Charlie could easily be. His use of such language in a professional environment after so short a contact tells me that he might not represent me well. After all, a referral is just me lending someone my reputation.
So then our conversation turned to baseball. He had tickets to see the Tigers play the next day. I mentioned that I was hoping to see the Toledo Mud Hens again soon. His response was to tell me that he hadn’t ever heard of anything good coming out of Ohio.
Strike Two.

My mom and her husband, many of my friends and networking contacts all live there. Pretty great people all around. My grandfather got his PhD from Ohio State. In addition to the Mud Hens, you have the Art Museum, Libby Glass, etc, etc, etc. This guy was developing a serious case of foot in mouth disease. Guess I’d better not refer any of my contacts from Ohio to him — or anyone who might know someone from Ohio.
Still trying to salvage the conversation, I talked about how I enjoyed Fifth Third Field where the Mud Hens play because it’s a more intimate stadium. No matter where you are, you feel like you are part of the action. The last time I was at Comerica Park (the home of the Tigers) the seats we could afford were up in nosebleed territory. Guess what? Good old Charlie had a solution for this one. He told me that he would buy the cheap tickets and then walk around until he found some better seating that was going empty. If an usher asked to see his ticket, Charlie would slip him a ten and the usher would leave him alone.
Strike Three.

I don’t know if Charlie realized it or not, but what he had just told me was that he was willing to cut corners in order to get what he wanted. Probably not the kind of guy I want to refer to anyone whom I care about at all.
You know, it’s entirely possible that Charlie is an absolutely fantastic insurance agent and a wonderful, upstanding guy to boot. He may donate time and money to the local orphanage and climb trees to rescue kittens. I’ll never know. In my five minute conversation with him, he exceeded my tolerances for bad first impressions.
Remember, in networking first impressions are not only fair, but they’re accurate, too. So, when you are at that next business mixer, bring your best self to share. You’ll probably be a lot happier with your results.
Photo by Ron Hall (also from Ohio)