A crowded bar. Half-finished drinks scattered across tables. Men in suits with smug looks on their faces and far too few women occupy the space. It's hard to get a word in edge-ways because the conversational topic is completely alien and no one wants to introduce you.
At least, that's what a run-of-the-mill networking event looks like, and is what pops into the heads of most people when they are invited to one. Sure, that's one way to network. But is it the best way? No. No it isn't.
"It's not what you know, it's who you know." And by following these networking tips, your own personal network will grow, and with that will come more business. No smug looks or alien conversational topics necessary.
Go on your own (or with just one other person if you really have to)
It may be daunting, but get yourself out of your comfort zone. When you're with friends or colleagues, it's easy to spend your time talking to them and not making the connections you're there to acquire. Get mingling! The great thing about networking is that most people have been where you are now, so they should be friendly and helpful if you're feeling a little shy.
Don't start by talking about business
Networking is about building relationships out of trust, not sales. It's a common misconception that networking is business, business, business, but your contacts will be more useful in the long run if they know you, trust you, and can recommend you to their friends. Sales talk gives the impression that you are only there to benefit from the other attendees. Talking about other things, however, lets everyone know that you're there for the right reasons - to build a network; not exploit one.
Ask what you can do for them, not what they can do for you