Firstly you don't have to put on airs and graces. Just be you. Obviously be aware of your surroundings but be consistent in what it is you tell people about yourself and what your aspirations are. It may sound obvious but don't lie, act with integrity and don't try to change who you are to suit someone else's expectation.
There aren't many networking guides that harp on about manners, but this point cannot be emphasised enough. Don't barge into other people's conversations - ask if you can join. Please and thank yous are priceless. Treat people with respect and no matter who you know or who you think you know it's still important to be respectful.
To listen is not just about using your ears. It is about being present. Focusing on the individuals who you are conversing with. Ask for explanations on things you aren't clear about and try not to make assumptions or jump to conclusions.
Think before you speak
The question most people ask at face-to-face networking events is "what do you do'. It's soooo boring! How about thinking of other questions that will make you memorable? Be creative, without going overboard, in the ways that you connect with people and throw in some interesting questions or statements at relevant opportunities.
Have a plan
When you are connecting have a plan of what it is you are doing. Who are you looking to meet? What is it that you are looking to offer? What is it that you want? What connections do you have to share?
As a student/young person looking to go into the world of work you may be seeking connections for further education, work experience, internships or voluntary work. Having a clear plan of action makes it easier to keep focussed and measure the effectiveness of your networking.
If you promise to connect with someone ensure that you do. Don't give away business cards or other details if you know you don't want to keep in touch. This can damage your professional reputation. This is not to say that you have to share your contact details with everyone you meet. But if you do give them out and they contact you, make sure that you follow up with a courteous email, or tweet or text or whatever other method you have agreed to connect with.
Have a place where you can demonstrate or promote your profile, for example, a business card with your basic information on it that points to a website. Given the amount of information that you can post now on Facebook pages, YouTube channels, LinkedIn and blogs you can easily put up a portfolio of your work that can be viewed by your contacts. Present something that makes you memorable.
Exit a conversation
The biggest problem I find with most people is not so much how they can start a conversation but how they get out of them. The simplest way to do so is to say something like: 'Nice to meet you, I'm going to meet with some others now, so take care'.
Don't make excuses for going to toilets. It gets tired after the third time. Just be polite and leave.
David McQueen is the founder of 'All Things Magnificent,' a group of companies focusing on personal and professional development. The points made above came from a talk he gave to students from the charity Career Academies UK. It was for their annual networking event, 'A Capital Experience" at the Royal Festival Hall.
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