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How to Network Without Sounding Like a Jerk

What should you do when you're tempted to mention your business to everyone you meet?

"If you're temped to talk about it, that means you're passionate about it," says Chris Dessi, the CEO and founder of social media consultancy Silverback Social.

"I'm certain that if you're a small-business owner there is going to be a funny anecdote or issue you're dealing with as a small-business owner that will be appropriate to talk about," he says. "As long as you're not bragging, people feed off energy and passion. Sharing passion is never a bad idea."

But be careful that you don't share too many anecdotes, Shook cautions.

"Clearly every word out of your mouth should not be about your business. Have three to five questions prepared that you will ask people you meet. After you've inquired about them, they'll be much more open to you saying, 'Let me share a little bit about what I'm doing,'" Shook says.

Of course all good networking depends on the setting. If you're at a non-business event, hold off speaking about your business unless it is relevant to the conversation, Witter says.

"You don't need to sell yourself all the time. Know your audience. Time is precious -- so when you do speak of your business, make sure it is to an audience that has a need," she explains.

Are there some things you should never talk about at a cocktail party?

"Never, ever, ever talk about money problems or windfalls," Dessi says. "And remember that sometimes it's nice to just have a cocktail without any business talk."

In general, business discussions should be positive, and you should never lose sight of the fact that everything you say might end up in tomorrow's newspaper, Shook cautions.

In case it's not always obvious, Witter says topics including religion, politics or problems with your company should be avoided no matter the setting.

"Why air your business' dirty laundry to a group of people who may be interested in your services? A loose-lipped executive does not inspire confidence. Zip it up and focus on the positive," she says.

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