Networking can be nerve-wracking, but building a wealth of contacts is often invaluable to your career.

1.  Be prepared

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail, Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers once said.  

If you are the host of the networking event, make sure you have all the necessary materials ready, such as name badges, business cards and brochures about your business. If you’re attending an external networking event, make sure you have something to contain all the business cards you collect. If you get flustered when talking to people, try to rehearse what you’ll say beforehand.

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2.  Set yourself a target

A networking event is not a social gathering – you are there to achieve something. Set yourself a target, such as the number of people you want to talk to or be introduced to. If the number is 10 or 15 people, make sure you leave with 10 or 15 business cards.

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3.  Don’t have a set agenda

Remember: Networking is about developing relationships – so don’t try to close a deal. You’re not there to do business or secure a job, you’re there to meet valuable contacts. Your main focus should be getting to know more people and their contact information to  potentially work with them in the future. So avoid any sales pitches or business propositions.

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4.  Be a good guest

If you’re attending a networking event, it is important to be a good guest. Make sure you are not complacent and avoid sitting in the corner by yourself – otherwise nobody will talk to you. If you don’t make the effort to get to know people, you’ll miss out on opportunities. Be friendly and open when you speak to people, and if you see someone sitting alone, go and say ‘hello’.

5.  Talk and listen

You’ve got to talk to people – but you’ve also got to listen to what the other person is saying. Often, networking isn’t just about fulfilling your own objectives, but also in helping others fulfil theirs. Maintain eye contact with the other person when he or she is talking and ask meaningful follow-up questions to show that you have been paying attention. Be genuine and authentic in your communication and you will likely leave a lasting impression on your new contact.

6.  Give referrals

Continuing on from the previous tip — even if you get the impression that the person you’re talking to isn’t relevant to your business, but you know of someone else at the event that may be of interest to them, you can refer them to the other person. This will help you to make good business connections as your contacts will remember you as the referrer.

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7.  Take two business cards

At networking events there is a lot of exchanging of business cards – when talking to someone, ask for two business cards. Don’t just take one for yourself, but also take one for someone you may know who may be interested in your new contact’s business, which ties in with the point above.

8.  Time management

It is important to keep track of time at networking events. If it’s a breakfast seminar, then you will only have about 30 to 45 minutes to network and if you’ve given yourself the goal of talking to 10 people that gives you about three to four minutes with each person. So make sure to manage your time effectively – don’t spend 20 minutes talking to someone you already know or have met at a previous networking event, but rather spend your time talking to new people.

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9.  Write everything down

If you don’t have a great memory, keep a pen and paper in your pocket and write everything down. If you’re going to meet 10 people in an hour you can’t guarantee yourself that you will remember the finer details of your conversation with each person, so it’s best to keep a written record of who you’ve spoken to and their line of business, along with a few details to jog your memory.

10.  Follow up

Most of important of all: Follow up! Follow up with your newly-formed contact the next day and, if you are running a business, suggest interesting collaborations for the both of you. Also, if you have promised to connect your new contact to someone you already know, do so, or risk undermining your credibility. Chances are, if you don’t follow up with your new contacts within one to two days, you’ve just wasted the entire networking event.

Summary

Networking is one of the most valuable activities you can do for your career, so make the most of it.

  • Prepare and have a plan for what you want to achieve. Don't spend all your time talking to the colleagues you came with or people you know.
  • Think about your network beyond the event and contacts you can refer.
  • Always follow up!
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