Do you suffer from “butterfly-itis” at the very thought of networking at business functions? If you answered yes, you are not alone! Many business people and entrepreneurs feel uncomfortable when it comes to walking up to strangers and starting a conversation. Many others are concerned about getting effective results from the time they spend networking.

The process doesn’t have to be traumatic, scary, or a waste of time. Neophyte networkers often ask me, “What can I do to meet more people and make better contacts at business mixers?” To answer this important question, I’ve put together some guidelines to help master those situations. These rules work just as well for Chamber of Commerce events as they do for a company open-house party.

1. Have Your Networking Tools with You at All Times

This rule is the foundation of everything that follows. All successful business networkers carry the “tools of the trade.” These include an informative name badge, plenty of business cards, brochures about their business and a pocket-sized business-card file that has the business cards of the professionals they refer.

As an effective networker, you need a commercially-made badge, which looks much more professional than the stick-on, “Hello My Name Is” paper badges. Your badge needs to include both your name and your company’s name or your profession.

2. Set a Goal for the Number of People You’ll Meet

Some people go to a meeting with only one idea in mind: the time they plan to leave! To get the most out of a networking event, set a goal regarding the number of contacts you want to make or the number of business cards you want to collect. Don’t leave until you’ve met your goal.

If you feel inspired, set a goal of meeting fifteen to twenty people, and make sure you get all their cards. If you don’t feel so hot, shoot for less. In either case, set a reachable goal based on the attendance and type of group.

3. Act Like a Host, Not a Guest

If you are hesitant to introduce yourself to total strangers, consider a different scenario for the evening: imagine you are the party’s host instead of a guest. A host naturally introduces himself to people he doesn’t know and then introduces them to each other. He makes sure people know where the food and drinks are. He watches for lulls in conversations and brings new people over to an already-formed small group.

There is nothing to stop you from playing the role of host, even though you aren’t the actual host. There isn’t anything to stop you from being more active and outgoing when you’re with a large group of people, either.

4. Ask the Five “W” Questions—Who, What, Where, When, and Why

As Dale Carnegie advised, show genuine interest in the other person’s business. If I meet a printer, I ask, “What kind of printing do you specialize in? Commercial? Four-color? Instant? Copying? Where are you located? How long have you been in business?”

The answer to each of these questions gives me a better grasp of the individuals and the type of work they do. Thus, I’m in a better position to refer them to others or invite them to different networking groups.

5. Describe Your Product or Service

After you’ve learned what other people do, make sure to tell them what you do. Be specific but brief; use “memory hooks” or basic explanations they will retain after your brief encounter. Explain your business in a little further detail to them if they show interest.

When you have the chance to be in front of the same group of folks regularly, don’t try to cover everything you do in one introduction. Also, don’t make the mistake of painting with too broad a brush. Laser-sharp networking calls for you to be very specific and detailed about one thing at a time.

6. Exchange Business Cards with the People You Meet

Ask the person you’ve just met for two of her cards, one to pass on to someone else and one to keep for yourself. This sets the stage for networking to happen. Review the cards for pertinent information. It’s not always easy to determine what people do simply from their title or company name. Note whether the products and services offered by the company are listed or summarized. To demonstrate your interest, write the missing information you collect on the back of the card, in view of the other person.

7. Spend Ten Minutes or Less with Each Person

Don’t spend too much time with any one person, no matter how interesting the conversation gets. If you want to spend more time, set up appointments with them. Stay focused on making as many contacts as you can. Don’t try to close business deals while you’re networking; it’s impractical. Set a date to meet and discuss your product or service in an environment more conducive to doing business.

Learn to leave conversations gracefully. Honesty is usually the best policy; tell people you need to connect with a few others, sample the hors d’oeuvres, or get another drink. If you feel uncomfortable with that, exit like a host by introducing new acquaintances to someone you know. Better yet, if it seems appropriate, ask them to introduce you to people they know.

These guidelines are part of the core of creating a positive impression and networking effectively. Establishing a word-of-mouth-based business requires getting out of your cave and getting belly to belly with other business professionals.

The next time you have the opportunity to go to a gathering of this sort, use what you’ve learned here to break the ice, expand your contact list and build your business.

Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN,
New York Times bestselling
author and the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world’s
largest business networking organization.