Here are some guidelines to help you make the most of your networking opportunities in environments conducive to gathering intelligence (or, usable information) and making valuable connections. At large business meetings, conferences, and summits, networking can be difficult for some people.
Don’t just attend generic meet-ups, choose events that are relevant to your industry and your professional goals.
Go where you know professionals in your field will congregate. The more each gathering you attend is targeted to your line of work, the more you will get out of it, both in terms of knowledge and connections.
Go with a friend or a colleague with whom you can discuss the event topics and who will support you in conversation.
Having someone there means you can generate a dialogue and more easily pull others in rather than standing alone and being a wallflower. Make sure your cohort is outgoing, but not someone who will misrepresent or embarrass you.
Professional networking is not the same thing as advertising.
It’s about forging mutual connections so that both (or all) parties benefit in some way. Allow for a flow of dialogue rather than trying to monopolize the conversation with elevator speech. You want to come across like a good relationship builder, not a used car salesman. People don’t want to foster new relationships with rude or sleazy people who are clearly only after their own interests.
Don’t forget your business cards.
When you’ve just had a great talk and the person requests one of your cards, you don’t want to be empty-handed. Your business cards should look professional and have enough information for someone to easily follow-up with you: full name, number, email address, website, and physical address if you so choose. Some people go the extra mile and include fax numbers, social networking pages, instant messaging handles, and so on. Include whatever is applicable and important to you.
Encourage exchange, not exploitation.
Some people you network with will need your help more than you need theirs. Offer them help – don’t just shrug them off when they could have a lot of potential value as contacts. Secondary contacts can be just as useful as those who can personally help you. Be it now or later, via the person in front of you or someone they know, all of your relationship building can lead to future contacts and even friendships.
If you’re not sure where to begin your search for events, talk to your boss and other people at work.
Check bulletin boards and online forums for professionals in your field.
Don’t have more than a drink or two.
If alcohol is available at an event, one or two drinks is enough to be social. Getting tipsy will not help you create a professional image, and the last thing you’ll want to do is start slurring your words! Excessive drinking can ruin your chances of making a good impression.