Ahead of the European Communication Summit on July 1st in Brussels, the organisers released an excellent newsletter issue on the importance of building a personal network and how to go about this during in-person networking opportunities. See below for their 15 point plan on how to prepare, execute and follow up during in-person networking events:

Before the event

1. Prepare the logistics
Make sure you carry enough cards for notes; consider using a system to organise them during the con­ference.
2. Plan your atten­dance in advance
If networking is one of your main reasons for going to the event, plan your attendance accordingly. Choose formats that make networking easier, such as workshops and small groups, and attend sessions which professionals who share your interests are likely to attend.
3. Set your goals
If there is a participants’ bro­chure, have a look at the bi­ographies and interests of the other attendees. But don’t pick too many: you don’t want to spend the whole event playing “Where’s Wally”. And make sure to keep the participants’ booklet: it can be a powerful networking tool outside the Summit as well.
4. Avoid making exclusive appointments during meals and coffee breaks.   
Why not plan to meet up over an informal breakfast beforehand or a glass of wine after the event?
5. Last but not least
Try to leave your work concerns behind. Taking advantage of the full experience demands your full attention.
During the event

6. Hello, Stranger
If you are one of the many who are attending on their own and are keen to make new acquaintances, it is natural to look out for other people who have come without their colleagues. The trick is to find the ones who are also looking for new contacts and to let others know through body language that you are the ‘open and friendly’ type. Avoid immersing yourself in your Blackberry or showing an exaggerated interest in a discar­ded leaflet.
7. Start a conversation on common ground
Are you both in the wrong room at the wrong time? Have you also chosen to at­tend the workshop given by one of the key­note speakers? Do you also prefer tea over coffee or need to know whether the sauce that comes with the vegetables is suitable for vegetarians? Do you hear your native lan­guage somewhere in the room? Common ground is a great conversation-starter.
8. The power of ho­nest compliments
If you genuinely agree with someone’s opinion, truly appre­ciate their insight or, on a less professional level, have fallen in love with their shoes, it is ok to say so. Honest compliments have a power of their own, and people are able to discern bet­ween candid compliments and false flattery.
9. Complaining: the international language
If you have lived in different countries you will agree: every single nation believes that no other country is as good at complaining. If you think the coffee is lousy, the chairs are uncomfortable and one particular spea­ker has a monotonous delivery, chances are that you have struck a conversational gold-mine. But pick your battles wisely: you don’t want to be the one who comp­lains about everything.
10. Sharing and Storytelling
The most powerful networking tool is not a tightly-guarded secret but plain, old-fashioned interesting conversation. If you really invest in a conversation, if you share insights and anecdotes, you will be remembered. As interesting conversations go, nothing beats stories and anecdotes. Just try and remember the people you met at the last conference you attended.
After the event

11. Make an offer that exceeds that moment in time
Make sure you include future meetings, events or contact opportunities in the conversa­tion: the next debate or forum, a project which you will be working on, an article which you think could be relevant to the person you are talking to.
12. Follow up e-mails
Send a brief e-mail in the following week, and make sure to include something to help jog the memory. They may be flatte­red when you write that it was wonderful to make their acquaintance but they might not be able to relate to it you unless you help them remember. Even if it takes describing the colour of your scarf, establish a relation between you and the conversation you had.
13. Use online networking tools
Don’t just have online accounts: use them! If you have a profile on LinkedIn, join LinkedIn group discussions as well and use it to keep in touch with those attendees who you didn’t manage to exchange cards with, browse through profiles and share impressions and insights.
14. Share and recommend projects and opportunities
Were you invited to a project and think there is a colleague who would also provide a va­luable perspective? Do you happen to know that a former employer of yours is hiring? Were you asked to write an article or deliver a speech and can’t do it, but you know one of your contacts would do a brilliant job? Share opportunities and do not hesitate to make a valid recommendation. That is the cement that holds a network together.
15. Be yourself, have fun and hope for the best!
“Be yourself” is a classic piece of advice in all networking and career manu­als, not to mention popular psychology handbooks on interpersonal relation­ships and productivity. The entire canon of self-help literature wants you to “be yourself”. And, like all clichés, it is founded on truth and common-sense. In the context of a conference attended by professional communicators, people around should easily be able to tell whether you are feeling comfortable or not, and will be intuitively whether you are focusing on the rules instead of them. So relax, there’s no need to try too hard!



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