Did you attend a work party over the holidays, or get together with co-workers or colleagues to ring in the New Year? If you did, chances are you did more than spread some holiday cheer. Whether you know it or not, you were “networking”—either creating relationships important to your business, job, or personal life, or cementing them.

Recently when I was touting the power and efficacy of networking, someone asked me “Are you networking or just going out for drinks?”

“Good question,” I replied, thinking to myself ‘Is there any difference?’

Of course, it depends. What is your mindset when you go out for drinks (or attend a chamber of commerce event or a leads group meeting or some other gathering of like-minded business professionals)? Sure, you could just show up, grab a drink and a snack, and then make your escape, but what would be the sense of that? I’m a big believer that if you’re making the effort to get out and about, whether it’s one-on-one or in a small group, at least attempt to engage others in conversation. You might be surprised at the connections you make, the information you gather, and even the relationships you establish.

Think about how you’ve developed relationships in the past.

  • How did you meet your spouse or significant other?
  • How did you meet your friends, your business partner, your top clients?

Probably, the seeds for these and similar other relationships germinated over dinner, a glass of wine, or at some event—a form of “social” networking done old school style.

Anytime we engage with someone else—socially, collegially, professionally, whether it’s over wine or at a BBQ or at a business meeting—we are participating in a form of networking. Just what results from these encounters is up to us. For instance, when you attend a networking event, what signals do you send when you sit quiet and alone, waiting for others to approach you? Now think of what kind of signals you send when you take the initiative and join in?

You get the idea. Consider these icebreakers to get conversations started:

Ask others . . .

  • about their businesses and what they do
  • what brings them to this particular event
  • how they got involved in their particular line of work or profession
  • where they went to college or got their training
  • what trends they see going forward in their industry
  • if they’ve ever heard the featured guest or speaker at a particular event before

Notice that these questions are all about them. That’s important, because relationships aren’t all about you. They are a two-way street. Be prepared to respond with your own answers to these or similar questions, and once the ice is broken, what comes next is all about what’s possible—perhaps the start of a lasting friendship, a key business relationship, or maybe it’s as simple as making (or receiving) a referral.

Whatever it is, remember it’s all good . . .  and it’s all an example of how networking can happen at any level at any time. As with most things, what you get out of it depends on what kind of effort you give—and often the pay back (or pay forward) will exceed your expectations. All that’s needed is the willingness to engage others one-on-one or in group settings and see where budding social or professional relationships might take you (and if there just happens to be a glass of wine in the mix, that’s just icing on the cake!).

Share your networking experiences and tips here.