Have you ever attended a networking event and envied the person who seems to float effortlessly from individual to groups of individuals – collecting business cards and making real connections as they go? Even if you are an extrovert, seeing this skill in action is a little like watching a professional basketball player sink shot after shot and wondering if they’ll ever miss. As professionals, we all know the value of networking, but often find it difficult to navigate the room through the sea of challenges that could often pop up.

Consider the following tips:

Look for connections in common – One of the reasons we talk about the weather is that it’s a common shared experience. If we are all in the same place, we all share the same weather. But how can we make small talk that quickly goes beyond the long winter? The important thing to remember is that everyone is there to make connections. If you start every conversation thinking about how you can help others first and not focus on your agenda, you will not only move beyond talking about the weather, you will also make people more inclined to want to help you. Focusing on the other party first is a great way to build trust quickly and show that you are looking for a mutually beneficial relationship.

Remember names – Repeating a person’s name when you first meet them is a great way to jog your memory but in order to commit it for the long term, we need to associate names with something important to us. Making connections and then associating that person’s name with the connecting points is the best way to file it away. Don’t forget to grab a business card before you leave so you have their contact information. Coyly jotting down a few of the details on the back will help you remember why they were an important connection for you to keep in touch with in the future.

Avoid time monopolizers – Sometimes we pick the wrong person to talk to and get stuck in an unwanted conversation that is difficult to break away from even when we know that the connection isn’t going anywhere. This situation is delicate, you want to be able to walk away with both parties unharmed. Honesty is best and asking for a business card to continue the conversation later is a good start.  If you don’t think you can delicately maneuver this truth, you could always try to make a handoff and introduce yourself and the conversationalist to another event attendee and then gracefully exit stage right.

Over all, don’t let networking intimidate you. Just like any other important communication, go to networking events with a plan of who you want to meet and what you want to get out of the event. When present, have as many meaningful dialogues as you can and after the event is over do not forget to follow up, follow up, follow up.

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