Networking know-how from John Hall of Digital Talent Agents:
Networking is equal parts art and science – and it gets much easier with practice. I’ve been networking since I was a kid, and I’m still learning what works and doesn’t work. (Yes, I’d like to think my networking has developed some sophistication since third grade.) While it’s impossible to make any guarantees, I’ve discovered that the following rules always hold true.
1. Give and you shall receive – Before you ask anything of anyone, make it a point to help that person first. Influencers and higher-ups are constantly being asked for favors and advice. As a result, your first impression will be stellar if you’re actually providing value. Find out what the person needs and genuinely try to help him or her.
2. Behave yourself at conferences – What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas anymore. Having a few drinks while networking makes sense, but don’t go crazy. There’s a good chance your antics could end up on Facebook, Twitter, or even “Tosh.O” (if you really go wild). Google doesn’t take your personal feelings into account as it compiles its search rankings, and you could end up with some undesirable results attached to your name.
3. Prepare yourself – Never come unprepared to a networking event, a conference, or even a phone call with a potential connection. The more information you have about a person, the better you’ll be able to relate to him or her. At a minimum, look at the person’s LinkedIn profile so you can get a feel for the different ways you could work together. Make it a point to ask targeted questions based on what you know, so you can aim for the outcome you want.
4. Ethics above all – Every once in a while, you can find yourself in a networking situation with the potential to cross moral lines. Save yourself a world of trouble, and don’t let yourself be tempted. I’ve made a lot of good deals in business, and I haven’t had to cheat on my wife, screw over a business partner, or do anything else I’m not proud of to make those connections.
5. Influencers matter – Always try to develop a relationship with the organizers or influencers at different events. They’re the ones who run the show and know the inner workings, and they probably have many valuable connections. It’s very easy to find a way to help them out and get on their radar. Making these connections at events could lead to VIP party invitations, speaking engagements, and many more opportunities.
6. Flashback to high school – Consistently make an effort to introduce people to each other and make people feel included. Invite people to dinner before or after an event, or share a few drinks and stories. Some of my best relationships, to this day, are with people who made me feel included back in high school. Apply that same principle to business – people remember you when you make the effort to include them.
7. Pay attention – If you want to burn a bridge quickly, start looking over someone’s shoulder when he or she is talking to you. Looking for someone better to talk to is the best way to doom a good relationship from the start. Give everyone your full attention and be truly present in conversations. If you find yourself nodding without knowing what the person is talking about, that’s a sign you’re drifting. You never know who that person knows and how you could partner together in the future. Simply put: every person matters.
8. Promises, promises – Seriously, if you tell someone, “Yeah, I’ll give you a call when I get back to the office,” you’d better actually do it. Remember that date from college? You gave her your number, and then she never called you back. There’s no reason to play hard to get with a potential connection, and keeping your promises is one way to prove you’ll be a good partner in the future. As you’re networking, write notes on people’s business cards. Include things like “Promised I would send info packet” so you can actually follow through with your commitments.
Like I said, there’s no surefire way to guarantee a good networking experience, and that’s a good thing – being too confident or lazy never enhances a connection. Each person you talk to will expect something different, just as each personality leads to a different type of conversation. However, having the basics down can lead to better and more frequent connections. Try following these rules during your next conference, workshop, or meeting – and seriously, don’t drink too much at those happy hours.
John Hall is the CEO of Digital Talent Agents, an agency that specializes in helping companies, entrepreneurs and business leaders build their brands by getting quality content published from them in reputable online publications that reach their target markets. This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.