A Wallflower’s Guide to Working a Crowd

Imagine that there's an upcoming networking event that you know you should go to. You can make great contacts, they say. The food is pretty decent, you hear. Your inner business manager is nudging you out the door to make more connections so you can make more moolah. And you HATE every last second of it.

If we were honest, most of us would admit seeing networking as an odious, anxiety-producing social nightmare that we tolerate because we know we should be doing it. We arm ourselves with a stack of business cards (and maybe a glass of wine) and attempt to create magic at the 90-minute reception among the passed canapés.

Upon arriving at the dreaded event, you weasel your way into a few uncomfortable conversations, hand out your business cards to people you've qualified (they have a pulse), order a second glass of wine and rationalize that you made a few "good" connections before calling it a day and heading home. Mission accomplished.

Fast-forward to the half-hearted follow-up, and you get nothing. Nada. Zilch. Bupkis. It's like you never even met those people. Or worse yet, they are more obnoxious than you are about trying to sell YOU something. You vow to never waste your time again on one of those dadgum networking events.

Until the next invitation comes across your Inbox.

How can you make the process of networking not only easy, but also highly lucrative? Here are seven steps you can take that will supercharge your connections and make you downright excited for that next mixer.

1. Do decent recon. Find out as much as possible about the event and all attendees, both past and expected. Learn about the sponsors and exhibitors. Find out who is hosting. Discover interesting aspects about the venue itself. The more you know going in, the smarter your conversation starters will be.

2. Pre-network. If at all possible, do a soft-lob connection on LinkedIn with relevant parties, even the ones that you don't think will ever do business with you (you have no idea who they know and how connected they are). Tell them you, too, will be attending and look forward to having fun and learning. Let as many people know about who you are before you get there. Whatever you do, DON'T SELL. Put the "light" in delightful.

3. Be the you-est you. Ensure that the best version of you shows up, not the tired, overworked, stressed-out, workaholic version. (This may require you taking a mental-refresh break or spending a few minutes visualizing your intention before going in.) Wear what makes you feel the most confident. Don't be afraid to let your goofiness or realness show. Imagine that you are at a party instead of a work event. Assume everyone who meets you will love you because you are awesome and a blast to be around.

4. Remember the Essential Six. Pretend you are on the school newspaper writing a feature about every person with whom you come into contact, asking the six key questions from Journalism 101: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. To really get the engagement going, start with Why. "Why did you choose to come today?" is so much more interesting and refreshing than the tired old standby, "What do you do?" (Ugh.)

5. Support unabashedly. Make it a mission of yours to help every single person with whom you have a conversation. From giving a genuine compliment to connecting them to the perfect resource to offering to send them a link to that great new Thai restaurant, find something of value you can give to everyone. Shower that room with service, and overdeliver on your promises.

6. Seize the CRM. When you come back to work, do NOT relegate those captured business cards to a lonely pile on the corner of your desk. If those cards were worth collecting, then they are worth taking the extra time to put in your customer relationship-management system. You want your new friend to be a lead (as in deed), not lead (as in dead). Put them in your system so they can continue to be given the attention they deserve.

7. Write delete-free emails. Continue the great rapport you've created by staying light, fun and helpful (with just a hint of business tone incorporated in). Make your subject line a friendly question like, "What Was Your Favorite Part?" instead of the standard ho-hum subject, "Following Up After ABC Event." Make them curious. Stay on their side. Be a bright spot in an otherwise dreary day. Don't start the hard sell. There's plenty of time for you to be a sales ninja in the future. Your focus now is to solidify your bond, not to close the deal.

By mindfully reframing networking events from painful acts of drudgery to delightful windows of genuine connection, you will not only dramatically enhance your professional reputation and credibility, you'll also naturally open yourself to greater opportunities for business and career growth. People will think of you first. They'll want to help you like you helped them. And you'll be able to trace your new business back to that first networking event when you rocked the room.

Theresa Rose is a business motivational speaker, award-winning author and expert on mindful productivity who helps organizations and their teams make more time, get more done, earn more money and have more fun. For more information, visit TheresaRose.com.