Networking – that shameless tit-for-tat experience where you only mix with people to further your own career. Don’t you hate it when you go to an event and people use lingo like ‘let’s touch base and take a thought shower together’? No one actually speaks like that in real life. There’s something about the idea of networking that seems forced and unnatural, an awkward exchange, where people just want to get a piece of someone. Feigning interest in people socially so you can fleece them in business? Nah, that’s not for us.

But, if you can bear the B.S and bravado, networking, when done right, can have real benefits for your company and often your personal life too. We like to think of it as a chance to make new friends and learn about others’ stories. So, here are 6 IDEAL networking tips that will actually help.

GO PREPARED

How embarrassing is it when you need to take down someone’s number and you’re scribbling down their details on the back of a folded napkin with a pen borrowed from the waiter? Not a good look and certainly not a professional one. Going in prepared, then, is essential. Make sure your phone is fully charged in case you need to take down some names and numbers. Carry a pen and notepad, and do a little snooping prior to meeting people so you’re well informed and ahead.

Although we’re living in a digital world, paper business cards are still a vital part of networking and carry a certain clout when presented. A well designed one (such as from the guys over at helloprint.co.uk) can be be a good conversation starter and statement, so remember to take one with you. Don’t be boring and just have your logo on it, make yours stand out from the crowd, with a friendlier, more personal touch perfect for making things (and you) more memorable.

WHAT CAN YOU OFFER?

Don’t go to a networking event with the selfish mindset of ‘what can I get out of this?’  – this is shortsighted and won’t get you anywhere. Networking should never be about the value you can extract from others. Instead, think about what you can offer other people. Networking is not a zero sum game. Like everything in life, the more you help others – expecting nothing in return – the more you’ll get out of it.

PLAN SOME ICEBREAKERS

We’ve all been there, and we’ve all felt the pain of uncomfortable pauses; you meet someone and after the initial hello and how do you dos, awkward silence ensues. Clearing your throat or filling the silence with inane ums and ahs just won’t do. Instead, have an icebreaker (or two) prepared, for when that frosty atmosphere needs smashing.

As much as you want conversation to flow naturally, having a few questions up your well ironed shirt sleeve to get things moving is no bad thing. Paying a sincere compliment; directly, ‘love your shoes’, or in a more subtle way, ‘care to share some of your insights on…’ works well. Equally, being honest about the forced nature of the situation can thaw relations pretty quickly; ‘I’m useless at this networking stuff, what shall we talk about?’ has an amusing, self-deprecating air.

SHARE A PERSONAL STORY & YOUR PASSIONS

Ditch the sales pitch and share some personal stories or talk about your passions, as that’s when you’ll show your best side. Networking is all about building a relationships, not simply about talking shop, so veer off the well trodden path of discussing colleagues and business interests and instead talk about something close to your heart. The enthusiasm in your voice and twinkle in your eye will make a long lasting impression and hopefully open up a more honest, open and fruitful relationship.

ASK FOR AN INTRODUCTION

It’s amazing how one introduction can change everything and open so many doors for your business. Proactive is better than passive, so quit standing in the corner waiting for someone to speak to you and ask an associate for an introduction. It sounds small, innocuous even, but it shows a sense of initiative and effort. Better still, a simple ‘I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m……..’ works wonders; crisp and assertive. Perfect.

DON’T FEAR THE BIG SHOTS

A certain trepidation always exists when considering approaching one of the key players at a conference. What if I make a fool of myself? What if they’re not interested in what I have to say? Well, those who never try, never succeed, so banish the nerves and gun for the most senior, well respected, knowledgeable figure in the building. Your confidence will be richly rewarded.