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How to Network Without Sounding Like a Jerk

"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.

What are some things you should always say?

"You should always communicate your passion and say why you do what you do. Think about what you stand for, and never be afraid to communicate that," Dessi says.

You should also touch on the crux of what you do and what your company stands for. Branding and context are critical, Reinke says.

"It's easy for entrepreneurs to be so absorbed in their ideas and the execution that they forget when meeting someone new, they need to start with the basics. It's like walking into the middle of a conversation and no one takes time to bring you up to speed," she says.

Above all, never forget those magic words:

"Always say 'thank you'," Shook says.

What are the best rules of engagement when you want to promote your business?

"Always be humble, don't dominate the conversation, do not be perceived as 'holding court,' and earn the right to have someone ask you about your business," Shook says.