If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it hundreds of times: The best way to grow your business is through the power of networking or word of mouth. Of course, whoever is saying this never follows up with exactly why that is or how to do it. Especially confusing to many is how to make the most of that perennial gathering — the Networking Event. So often we walk in dreading having to carry on conversations with complete strangers, eating food that isn’t what we would have chosen, and finally walking out feeling like we’ve wasted out time.

And the sad thing is we can avoid so much of this by simply practicing a few simple techniques and behaviors before, during, and after the event.

Before: Preparation and Strategy

Half the battle of good networking is making sure that we’re aimed in the right direction right from the start and then having the right tools at hand to make that job easier. Specifying our target market — that very specific group whom we prefer to serve — will go a long way toward putting us in the right place at the right time. The trick is to remember that paradoxically, the narrower we specify that group, the more likely it is to yield powerful results.

Once we know that we are pointing ourselves at the right groups, then we just need to make sure our networking toolkit is prepped and ready to go. These are the materials we need to make our jobs as networkers go as smoothly as possible. Having our toolkit ready at hand means we’ll be as relaxed as possible when it comes time to meet potential new members of our network.

During: Techniques for Connection

We’ve all heard numerous tips, tricks, and techniques designed to help us succeed at meeting new connections. Regardless of which of these you decide to use, their value is based solely on two concepts.  The first is: Does it follow the Golden Rule? If someone were using the same technique on us, would we appreciate it? If we don’t like people shoving their business card into our hands — even though we didn’t ask for it — then we shouldn’t be doing the same thing to someone else. If, on the other hand, we like it when someone takes an interest in us as a person, then it’s pretty likely that that’s a behavior we should try to emulate.

The second concept is: Does this behavior boost our network by either adding someone new or does it strengthen an existing relationship? Going to an event and chatting with someone we already know might deepen that relationship, but we are missing out on the opportunity to add new people to our network (which is pretty much the only reason to attend the event in the first place). Be sure the behaviors we choose are the ones that will yield the best results.

After: Follow-Up, Follow-Up, Follow-Up

If you don’t follow up after the event, you might as well have stayed home. The event can only be the beginning of the relationship. It brings us to the point where we are aware of each other. Now we need to work together to deepen that connection to make it a tie between to people not just two businesses.

To make this easier, we need to set up systems which are going to support us in our efforts to continue the conversation beyond the event. Tickler files, networking scorecards, and daily networking logs go a long way toward turning what can be a fuzzy pursuit into something which we can measure — and thus improve.

Yes, networking is a powerful way to grow our businesses and, further, to enjoy success in all aspects of our lives. Learning and practicing the techniques of good networking will help turn us all from reluctant networkers into true networking superheroes.

Greg Peters, president and founder of The Reluctant Networker, LLC, is a business networking specialist. He has worked with businesses and associations, entrepreneurs and job-seekers to create a world of better connections and greater opportunity. Find out more at www.TheReluctantNetworker.com or gpeters@thereluctantnetworker.com.

© Copyright 2011, The Reluctant Networker, LLC

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