As with any task, successful networking is a matter of having the right tools. When you attend an event with the purpose of broadening your circle of contacts, there are a few things you must bring with you to generate the best results. Don’t show up without the following:
1. The Right Intention
While networking can take many forms, the end game is to meet new people and create or strengthen professional relationships. Your goal is not to dazzle strangers with your achievements, or to hawk your company’s wares. Your primary objective is to simply make new contacts or build upon existing ones. Going in with the right mindset will help you project an approachable demeanor.
2. Business Cards
While these are an important tool, use them thoughtfully instead of randomly passing them out. Once a connection is established, and there’s a mutual interest in staying in touch, offer you card by saying, “May I have one of your cards? I’d like to share one of mine with you too.”
3. A Great Introduction
This means good eye contact, a firm handshake, saying your first and last name and making a deliberate, conscious effort to remember the other person’s name. Once introduced, make sure to repeat their name to help imprint it on your brain. If you forget it, and another person walks up, don’t be embarrassed to say, “Please remind me of your name again so I can properly introduce you.”
4. A Polished Look
It’s true: others form their first impression of you within the first 6 seconds. Once that image is formed, it’s hard to change. Present yourself at your best by dressing a little better than you think you should. Before you walk into the room, do a last-minute check of your hair, teeth and appearance. Make sure your body language communicates an openness to meeting new people, so no slouching or folding your arms across your chest. Stand tall and project confidence.
5. Talking Points
Whether you are going to a mixer or meeting someone one-on-one, think in advance about what you will say so you are better equipped to get the most out of your time. In a group setting where you aren’t sure who you will be meeting, you can start by asking general questions about their job, their involvement with the organization that is sponsoring the event or developments in their industry.
When it’s with a specific person, look at their business profile on LinkedIn, their bio on the company website or media coverage they may appear in. Learn a bit about them so you can jump into a discussion and gather more information. In any networking scenario, the goal is to discover common ground; the crux of forging connections.
6. Your Own Unique Personality
There are many opinions about the best way to network, but perhaps the most important is to be yourself. It’s exhausting to try to be a bouncy extrovert if you are someone who prefers quiet one-on-one conversations. Play to your personality type; if you are not particularly talkative, try to engage in a conversation where your listening skills can shine. You can forge more meaningful connections when you set a goal of having real, down-to-earth conversations with new people.
7. A Smile
This does wonders in helping you come across as warm and approachable. If you are nervous (and really, who isn’t a little bit uncomfortable at a networking event?) a smile can actually help you relax. You don’t need to walk around with a cheesy grin plastered on at every moment, but be conscious of maintaining a pleasant demeanor.
8. A Pocket or Purse
This is where to put your phone after you have turned it off (or at least set it to vibrate). Most of us are conditioned to reach for our phone anytime an alert goes off or during a momentary lapse in action. Doing so could cause you to miss a great opportunity to meet someone new or worse, make you appear downright rude. Store the phone away and focus on the people in front of you.
You may also like Overcoming Networking Nerves. For more of Diane’s etiquette tips, visit her blog, connect with her here on Huff Post, “like” The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Buy her new book, Modern Etiquette for a Better Life here.