Talk about them first
Who are your "big fish"
Own the room
1. Not Selling
Networking is not about selling. It's about meeting people and starting business relationships. The aim is not to close the deal.
2. Elevator Pitch
Most people's impressions are formed within 10-15 seconds of meeting someone. Make those seconds count. So when someone asks you "What do you do", don't just say "I'm in accountant". Say something like, "I help businesses pay less tax", which naturally leads to the other person asking "How do you do that?". To which you can then describe how you bring about value.
3. Talk About them first
I'm sure you find nothing more boring than someone who talks non stop about themselves. At networking events they often appear, talk incessantly about themselves, then thrust a business card in your hand and walkd off to find their next victim.
That's not a great way to build business relationships.
What you should do is ask lots of questions and find out all about you can about them.
First of all it's polite. As Dale Carneige said in the Book How to Win Friends and Inluence People it is bettter to be more interested than interesting. Dale Carnegie's book is highly recommended for lessons on how to build rapport and relationships with people.
Every question I ask, I think of ways I can help the other person. Either by introducing them to someone else or sending them some information after the event.
Also by asking questions you can decide whether they are a good contact for you or not!
Ask them for their business card. Rather than thrusting yours into their hands.
4. Who are your "Big Fish"
Attending a networking event is a little like being in the middle of sea. You are surrounded by big fish, small fish and plastic carrier bags.
You want to speak with Big Fish. People who are useful for you to speak speak to. These will be target clients, target suppliers, key influencers etc. (Small Fish are quite useful but Plastic carrier bags are no use at all).
Before you go to an event, be it an exhibition or evening events, find out from the organisers who is going to be there. Then try and work out who your Big Fish are. (After all, if you don't know who your Big Fish are, how will you know when you come across them!)
5. Own the Room
Be a host, not a guest.
Hosts, breeze in and out of conversations. They put people together. They own the room. When you're networking, pretend you are the host. It increases your confidence and helps you to own the room. Indeed, when you meet a group of strangers, you can walk up to them and say "Hi, I'm Matthew, do you mind if I join you". I've never known anyone to ever say no...
6. Right Events
To meet the right people - The Big Fish. You have to be fishing where the biggest fish swim.
Remember we started this post with Networking isn't Selling. This means that the best outcome you can hope for isn't a sale, but a post event meeting over coffee with a big fish.
If a conversation is going well say, "it would be useful to continue this conversation when it's not so busy. Do you mind if I give you a ring in the next couple of days to arrange a coffee?".
Then, get their card, diary a reminder to call them, and you networking has been a success.