At its essence, networking is connecting with people. It can be individuals you know, want to know better, or are considering bringing into your sphere. As social beings the behavior is not only normal but instinctual. So why when I put “business” or “career” in front of networking do many of my executive coaching clients suddenly panic, plead ignorance, or express “hate”? My guess is they’ve never really tested, had a bad experience and/or don’t know the how tos.

At our last tele seminar “Are You Networking or Notworking?” my guest Bryan Adams, an avid and dedicated networker, shared many of his strategies and disciplines.

Here are some takeaways from the session.

Lesson 1: Preparation. E-vites make it easy to prepare for a networking event because you often get access to attendee’s names prior. A quick search on Google, Linkedin, and Facebook should immediately tell you about most people. If I can’t find an attendee on any of these sites, I question their value as a business contact; that’s how popular and impressive listing is. So, you check them out, then decide who are the most important people to meet and figure out, in advance, how to make it happen. I pay special attention to officers of organizations. They generally know all the members and are motivated to increase participation. Also, an intro by a leader often has more credibility and weight.

Continuing with the prep are the basic tools of networking. Despite the wonders of technology the good ole paper business card remains the method of information exchange at most live events. If you are looking for or want to change work, having a personal business card is essential. Swapping cards is part of the ritual. Whether you offer or are asked for yours seems irrelevant, provided you leave with their card. A pen in your pocket, to make immediate notes, is also a must have.

Lesson 2: Working the room. Who doesn’t dread being alone in a crowd? I know I do. When attending any networking event go with a goal. Say to yourself. “I have two hours and want to meet 25 people.” I can hear you now, “25 strangers! I can’t do that!” Yes you can. Keep in mind a number of people will be in small groups, so a multiplier is already there. When you are one-on-one with someone, be very aware of your time. Ten minutes, max, with any one person. If they’re fascinating, set a date to meet at a later time. If they are boring you to tears, ten minutes is too long. Excusing yourself can be as easy a “spotting” someone across the room. The lure of food in another area can get you free as can the bathroom run. However you extract yourself be friendly, gracious, and timely.

Lesson 3: Conversation. Most people love talking about themselves or giving advice. Play to that suit. Unlike private gatherings, in business networking attendees expect you to ask, “So, what do you do?” Soliciting an opinion or experience from someone, as long as it is simple and not too personal, can keep the conversation going. I often ask new acquaintances what other groups they belong to or inquire as to what blogs or sites they follow, or people they read. It’s benign and informative.

Lesson 4: Follow-up. You’ve just invested hours in preparing, traveling to and participating in an event, now what? The secret is in the follow-up. Collecting cards is pretty easy, they’re cheap and no one refuses. Doing something useful with them is another story. Bryan’s secret is, upon returning home, to immediately enter the data into his data bank as well as invite the card owners to connect on social networking sites. Because the meeting is fresh in your mind you’ll remember important details. Most people will be happy to join you since you’ve already met. Remember, this should be the first of many contacts you will have with the person. Why not start right away? The trick is to think of reasons to stay in touch. Informing a new connection of another event, sending more information about a topic you discussed, passing on a link, all are thoughtful and useful to contacts.

Four lessons for business and career networking—prepare, set a goal, chat, and follow-up.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.