You never know who you are sitting beside at a networking event and how that person (and her influence) may be the best thing this year for your business.

Far too often, people talk to and schmooze with the people they already know, are Facebook friends with, or saw at a different event a week ago instead of making new connections and building new relationships. While it is important to keep those recent connections strong, you can do this briefly saying how nice it is to see them again and introduce yourself to the person/people they are with. Also, make sure that you connect with the people at your table. Be curious, ask questions, and show genuine interest in learning about the people you are sitting with.

Over the years, I have met clients, sponsors, and project partners at networking events. It is what happens after the event that can transform your business. Make notes on the back of business cards you receive. I write what I learned about the person (e.g. they have a dog, love the show America’s Got Talent, and are going to Mexico for vacation in June) on the card. I create a task for myself in the project management system our team uses (Asana) or in my Google Calendar to follow up with the person after the networking event. Then, perhaps in June after their vacation, I send a short note in LinkedIn or through social media to ask how their vacation was.

This kind of attention shows that you listened, you cared, and that you took time to build a relationship. It also shows that individual what you are like to do business with. I use the CamCard app on my phone to copy the business cards and put them into my phone contact list. Once back in the office, I also connect with them on LinkedIn (that way, if they ever change their email address, you are still connected to them, and their LinkedIn profile tells you a lot more about the person).

Here’s our system for maximizing the value of networking events:

  1. Ensure you are connected with the event organizer, speakers, and emcee, etc. on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter before you attend the event.
  2. Bring business cards. You would be surprised how many people do not bring business cards… what a missed opportunity! If you don’t have business cards, connect with them on Facebook and LinkedIn at the event.
  3. Be active on the event’s social media and event pages before you attend.
  4. Be a champion for the event host.
  5. Follow up after the event.
  6. Have fun and build relationships… Talk to strangers!

Charmaine Hammond, Raise A Dream