In business, your network is your networth. It is a key element in moving your career forward, and without it you will in effect lose thousands of Rands each year. Research shows that the best jobs are never advertised, and 85% of all jobs are secured through networking! But, arriving at a networking event is intimidating and nerve-wracking to say the least. The good news is though, you can develop the skills you need to network well, and create powerful networking relationships.

1. Consider your presence power points.
Make a great impression with a smile, handshake, eye contact, and erect posture. These are essential to making a good first impression. Direct eye contact and a firm handshake, along with a smile and good posture, shows others that you are confident and comfortable in social situations.

2. Position yourself for effective conversation.
Find the drink’s table and position yourself at the edge of it. Many people head for the drinks table when they arrive at a networking event in order to get a short respite from an overwhelming entrance. If you position yourself a few steps from the table, you can easily strike up easy conversation as people turn with drink in hand.

3. Come prepared with a short, compelling and easy to understand self-introduction.
You don’t want to be ‘uming’ and ‘ahing’ through your introductions. Have a clear definition of who you are and what you do.

4. Know how to make and respond to introductions.
Introductions can be awkward. When introducing someone, mention their name, what they do, and if you can, something that connects you to them. When responding to an introduction, smile, and be ready to answer questions about what you do.

5. Be specific about what you do.
The more specific you can be about what you do and what others can do to help you (if they ask), the better. Tell them the names of a few specific companies you’re looking to work with.
Ask yourself why they should care. Consider why the person you’re speaking to should care about what you’re saying. Craft your conversations accordingly. You only have a short time to make an impression, so try to make it favorable.

6. Know hand-shaking etiquette.
Always be prepared for a handshake by knowing how to handle your cocktail utensils. Carry your beverage and/or cocktail plate, along with a napkin in your left hand. Make sure that you wipe your fingertips on your napkin before shaking hands.

7. Master the art of small talk and making people feel comfortable.
Practice makes perfect! The more you make small talk, the better you will become. Learn from other people by listening to how they start conversations, and apply these yourself.

8. Know how to gracefully enter and exit conversations.
Approaching one person who is not already engaged in a conversation is ideal. Approaching two people who are conversing is not a good idea because they will more than likely be engaged in a more intimate or intense conversation. Approaching a group may seem to challenging to you, but if you take plunge, it will be worth the effort. Simply extend your hand, introduce yourself and ask if you can join the conversation.

9. Think of others.
Remember that networking is a two-way street. When attending a networking event, consider the question: What’s in it for the other party? You have to give something – be it time, talent, performance or information – in order to get something back. If you are willing to share your contacts and resources, others will be more likely to help you as well. Develop a sincerity in your giving nature without expectation of something in return.

10. Set reasonable expectations.
When attending an event, have a clear understanding of what you are there to do. Is your goal to feel out a new organization and get to know the vibe? Is it to meet five new people? Is it to meet one or two specific people?

11. Follow up.
Once a connection is made, it is important for you to develop this relationship through diligent follow up and careful nurturing over a period of time. A helpful hint would be to jot down information from your conversation on the back of the person’s business card to make following up easier and more relevant. A good rule of thumb is always follow up with an email or handwritten note within 48 hours of meeting someone, but never longer than a week. Thereafter, following up should be continuous. Build rapport and trust that business will happen. The rewards from your meeting may not happen until six months or a year later.

12. Reach out to people outside your professional or social group:
Try not discriminate against people who are not like you in profession or pay grade. Doing this will cause you to miss opportunities that come from unexpected places. Network laterally, vertically and horizontally. Never underestimate the power of the grapevine. Good information sometimes comes from the places you least expect it.

13. Consider your body language.
Be engaged. Keep eye contact with your conversation partner. Nod your head and tilt your body towards them when you’re speaking. These small cues go a long way towards making them feel like you care, which helps you to build rapport and trust: the foundation on which you can later do business.

14. Focus on making just a few solid connections.
Do NOT “work the room” by trying to meet as many people as possible in a room. People can sense when you’re simply speaking with them to grab their card and go. These short interactions will not be memorable and therefore work against you. Aim to meet a few people and begin a meaningful dialogue.
Don’t be afraid to join in. There is nothing wrong with joining a conversation and waiting for a natural break in the chatter to introduce yourself. In most cases, the people who are already speaking will enjoy the interruption because it gives them a chance to meet someone new. If you sense that you’ve entered into a serious discussion, it’s okay to politely excuse yourself.

Networking is just that. Work. It’s not net eating, net drinking or net partying. It’s easy to get lost in the food and socializing at a network event, and forget that networking is part of your business and long-term career strategy. Stay focused at these events, because they can be highly beneficial to you and your business success.