Use patience, time and humour to convert a chance encounter into a mutually beneficial relationship. Here are a few suggestions for planting friendship seeds that may grow into oaks.

Plan and practise

As a businessperson, you’ll likely get many invitations to trade shows, conferences and other invitation-only events. Executives from your own company might be there, so might key people of other organisations. Practise the words you’ll say ‘casually’, ahead of time. (Think of it as taking the stage to speak a few well-rehearsed lines.)

Dress right

Research the dress code. Think about who else might show up. Confirm the directions for travel and parking.

Plan your small talk

Decide your opinion on three topics specific to the event. Talk about the city, the industry, local climate and so on. It may feel artificial at first. The reality is this: you want to find common interest with other guests, because people like to do business with those who have similar interests. The more commonalities you discover, the more likely you’ll get a further opportunity to meet.

Make the most of your time

Contrary to popular belief, serious networking is not an opportunity to get free food. If you are hungry, get a plate and eat in the corner for a minute. Carry your drink in your left hand, so your right is free for shaking hands.

Move about and meet people

Handshakes: Grip hands so your palms fit together, shake twice, and be the first to LET GO. When talking to people, look them in the eye: Five seconds. Look just long enough so you notice the colour of their eyes. The colour doesn’t matter, but the fact you made good eye contact does.

Limit your talk time

Talk 3-8 minutes with each person, not longer. Circulate. Learn how to extricate yourself from chatterbugs. It isn’t easy. Here’s a line: “This is a great networking event, so I’ll let you move along.” Or: “It’s been a pleasure talking to you” will do. One tactic for really persistent people is to say: “I’ve got to run. I just saw someone I NEED TO TALK TO …” Sometimes a simple closeout action is needed. Thank them for the chat, reach out, shake their hand and MOVE AWAY. If you stop, you’re stuck.

Write a ‘thank you’ note

Whenever appropriate, send a note of thanks after the event. This is a huge chance to be MEMORABLE. If you do it consistently, you’ll be different from the ordinary crowd. Yes, it does take time, but if you want to use networking as a way of finding people who will help you get things done, there’s really no choice. Is there?