Does networking make you want to pull your hair out or does it make you smile and want to work at it? What is or is not networking?

What is not networking?

Networking is not about

* Exchanging or collecting as many business cards with as many people as possible

* Meeting or knowing as many people as you can

* Just promoting yourself

* Impressing people with a 30-second elevator speech

* Creating a big database of names, and

* Building short-term relationship.

What is networking?

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, networking is defined as "a system of trying to meet and talk to people who may be useful to you in your work".

Networking is the indispensable art of building long-term, reciprocal relationships with people. It is about the ability to cultivate contacts, to sustain a win-win relationship and to help others and be helped for mutual success.

Networking rests on a few basic key principles which can be followed in three parts:

Part 1

Before you network, establish your purpose. Do some preparation, planning and consider the following:

* Decide how many contacts you would like to meet and who you should approach.

Work out your positioning. Prepare a short statement of who you are and what you can offer.

* Gather background information that will help your networking partners. Think about what you can do for them.

Part 2

One of the most effective ways of networking is to use your interpersonal skills. Use the following techniques constantly and consistently to make them work for you.

* Make a good first impression. Be cheerful and confident. Go to people you have not met. Introduce yourself. Initiate the conversation.

* Be relaxed. Do not immediately whip out your business card after shaking hands. Engage in small talk, such as, current events, vacation plans and hobbies, which will help to create the relationship-building process.

* Show interest in the other party. Share some facts about yourself, such as where you work and what you do. Create the opportunity for the other party to talk by asking what he does.

* Be willing to listen. Know when to keep quiet. Be focused. Do not let your eyes wander over their shoulder or glance at your watch too often.

* Use open-ended questions. This will help to keep the conversation flowing. Allow time for the networking partner to respond.

* Mind your language. Watch your choice of words, clarity, tone and pace. Speak clearly (and sometimes, even slowly). Be polite to all and not just a selective group of people. Say, "Please" and "Thank you", even to the doorman and waiter.

* Watch your body language. Put a smile on your face. Mirror the body language of the networking partner so as to connect and put the other party at ease.

* Collaborate for success. When the conversation turns toward business opportunities, be prepared to share about your work and what you can do to align your goals with that of the networking partners for mutual benefit. Focus on what you can give, not just on what you can receive.

* Move on and get to know others. Do not stay with the same networking partners all the time just because you have built your comfort zone. Find the right time to exit, such as, when you need to top up your drinks or get food.

* If there is a need to follow up, agree on specific actions and timeline.

Part 3

After the networking event, be prepared to follow up with your new networking partners. Create a plan to track your contact with them.

* Keep a profile of the people you met. Write brief notes on your experience with them, their likes and dislikes and specific actions for following up.

* Thank the networking partners for their time and effort. You could send an e-mail or a handwritten card or telephone them. Customise the message, mentioning topics of mutual interest, if any, to help to strengthen the bond.

* If you are required to go back to the networking partners on any specific actions, ensure you do so. This is one opportunity to build and strengthen the relationship.