I would say go in with a game plan. Your objective is not to spend two hours working the room. Tell yourself, ‘I’m going to spend 20 minutes or 30 minutes or one hour and I’m going to meet at least three new people who can benefit me and whom I want in my network.’ I may have to meet 10 people before I get to those three, but I’m going to give myself 30 minutes to do it and then I’m going to make my exit.
I just walk up to people, introduce myself and ask them who they are, what company they’re with and what kinds of things they do. That’s how it starts. The key in building a real network is that it’s not just about collecting business cards and walking out the door. You actually need to get in touch with them and work at developing that relationship. And it can be by email at first, but if it’s a relationship you really want or need, you will have to work at it, including in person.
Here’s a great example: I’ve been working on developing a job description for a very specific type of job and I know others who have those positions and I wanted to get some feedback on what kinds of responsibilities, what kinds of roles they have within those companies. So I reached out to the people in my network and one person, who didn’t know anything about it, said, ‘Let me introduce you to these other two who really know about this and can really help you.’ So one door opens another door and that’s the magic and the importance of having a really strong network.