Networking! A word that strikes fear in the hearts of many, trepidation in the hearts of most.
I am in a few very collegial groups whose purpose is to support each other, and yes, network. As in: I will get to know you better as a person, hear about what you do and why you love to do it, and then we might be able to work with each other some day or help make connections for each other. But hard-core "networking"? I like that about as well as going for my annual check -up.
Once in awhile I do talk myself into going to one of these events where the stated purpose is to just network. I find I can last about 90 minutes before my energy flags, and so I heed that sign and make my exit. It is time to go when you can no longer be your "best public self." But I have worked hard (which may be why I am out of gas), and I have already made connections.
When I help a client with networking, we focus on her "cocktail party speech'', which is a hybrid of two time-tested public speech forms: the elevator pitch and the neighborhood get-together introduction. When networking, you need to present yourself in your best light, and give a few tantalizing details about what you do. You will also be testing the waters with your conversation partner to determine if this is a connection worth pursuing. So you need to be specific but not jargon-y. Tell a bit about your business but more about yourself. And listen to the person you are speaking to. It's challenging to strike that balance, but it gets easier over time. And the very best networking experiences I have had come from meetings, lectures, book launches, exhibit openings, etc., where I am truly interested in the event/subject matter/topic. These events attract people with whom I already have something in common, so I have a guaranteed ice-breaker.
That way, every networking evening is a winner! Even if I walk out with fewer valuable contacts than I would like, I have been enriched, challenged, engaged by the experience. And as the French say, je me coucherai moins bête ce soir*. Which is always a good thing!
* I will go to bed less stupid tonight.