I was at a networking event last night, catching up with many colleagues, friends and acquaintances. As a long-time networker, I’ve finally learned to stop scanning name tags to try to figure out who I should be talking to. That’s not my job – that’s the role of others present.

In a good networking group where people understand this concept, here’s how it works. I chat with Nelson, and realize he should be connected with Klaus. After first determining if Nelson would be interested in touching base, I catch Klaus’ attention, and manage the introduction. My main role is to add what kind of projects I’ve worked on with Klaus. Apart from the introduction, the value I can add is one of first hand experience.

Jackie does her part by introducing me to a long-time friend she believes might need my help. Mark does something similar. I don’t have to go looking for suitable prospects – instead the people I know and have spoken with do that for me.

Because it’s not all about business, I have a long chat with George about movies. We both discover we are long-time fans of the Japanese samurai series Zatoichi. This is not what you expect to be discussing at a business networking event, but it deepens our relationship by finding common touchpoints. This leads into a discussion of work we each did in Asia. George spots Jack – and says I should meet him. Jack is talking to Nelson, and I realize that George and Nelson could complement each other.

We lurk around that conversation, eventually risking being rude and breaking in. It’s okay when you have some value to bring, and both George and I thought we could. Soon we have a lively four-way conversation going, and realize that these are some valuable connections.

My point in this recap, is that you need to lose the “What’s in it for me” perspective, and assume the role of connector. You benefit by being seen as a connector, and become a person others want to connect with. Let them take on that role finding you the right people to chat with. Finally, if you focus on just business, you risk not really connecting on a personal level. People like to network to others they feel they know, or share common interests with. Don’t sacrifice the depth of relationship for the sake of connecting with more of the room full of people. It actually makes networking easier, and more enjoyable, as well as more productive in the long run.

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