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These excellent networking tips are from Mark Hunter, sales expert.  Even if you aren't in sales, these tips offer some great advice for anyone trying to navigate the difficulties of networking in person.  There are tips on everything from how to give out your business card to initiating conversations.  We talk a lot about networking online using LinkedIn to connect with others and even participate in group discussions, but I don't want you to lose sight of the value of speaking to an actual person!

Networking:
21 Tips to Use at a Networking Event
  • When you arrive at a networking event, avoid gravitating to people you know.  You should initially thank the host and then immediately find someone new to introduce yourself to.  This will help keep you in the right frame of mind as to why you came.
  • Stop selling and start listening!  When you meet someone for the first time, use it as an opportunity to get to know them.  Don’t try to sell them anything.  Rather, begin to establish a relationship.
  • Keep your business cards in the breast pocket of your coat, a shirt pocket, or in an outside pocket of your purse so they are easy to access and in good condition.
  • When giving a person your card, personalize it by hand writing your cell number on it.  This will cause the recipient to feel that they are receiving something special.
  • When giving or receiving a business card, be especially careful when dealing with people from outside the US as many cultures treat them with very high regard.
  • When receiving a card from someone, take a moment to write yourself a note on it such as where you met.  If you do this while you’re still talking to the person, it will help convey your sense of personal connection.
  • During the course of a conversation, use the other person’s first name two or three times.  People always like to hear their own name and it will help you to remember it when the discussion is over.
  • Rather than telling a new contact all about yourself, spend your time asking them questions.  It’s amazing how much you’ll learn!
  • After you meet someone for the first time, use the back of their business card to jot a note about something you learned from the conversation and the date and place you met them.  Recording the information will give you something to talk to them about the next time you see them.
  • Connect with the person you’re talking to by tilting your head as you listen to them. It is an effective body language technique which communicates that you’re paying attention to what they’re saying.
  • When a person is talking to you, be sure to look directly at them.  Giving a person full attention with your eyes will encourage them to share more.
  • Remember, however, that it’s not a “stare-down” contest.  Give the person 3 – 5 seconds of eye contact and then look away briefly before returning your focus to them again.
  • The best location to network is by a high-traffic area such as a main door, the bar, or near the food.
  • Never approach people if they’re walking towards the restroom.  Wait until they have returned to the networking area.
  • After the person has shared something with you, ask them another question about what they just said.  This shows that you’re paying attention and that you care about what they’re telling you.
  • Always keep one hand free to allow yourself to shake hands with people.  This means that you shouldn’t eat and drink at the same time.  But remember, this is a networking event, not a full-course meal.
  • As a way of demonstrating your networking skills, introduce each new person you meet to at least one other person.
  • Never try to barge into a group of 4 or more people.  Come along side of the group, but do not attempt to enter into the discussion until you’ve made eye contact with everyone.
  • Do not approach two people who are talking, as you may be interrupting an important discussion.
  • It is best to initiate conversation with someone who is standing by themselves.  They’ll be happy to have someone to talk to them and, as a result, will many times open up with valuable information.
  • When you meet someone for the first time, you have 72 hours to follow up with them before they will completely forget about meeting you.
  • A networking event is not a time to see how many business cards you can acquire.  Rather, it is a time to develop a few relationships that have potential.

Mark Hunter, "The Sales Hunter", www.TheSalesHunter.com, © 2008