This article by Bruce L. Katcher offers valuable tips for making the most of your networking meeting opportunities, including the following:
"Your professional network is one of your most valuable assets. Professional networking meetings are one of the best ways to continually revitalize and grow your network. But if you attend meetings without a clear strategy for maximizing their value, you may end up as a wall-flower, merely watching other people network and wondering why you gave up the time in the first place...
Here are seven ways to maximize the value of professional networking meetings.
1. Be Strategic about Which Meetings You Attend...Three types of professional networking groups offer different benefits:
Join a group that will enable you to keep abreast of the latest developments in your field.2. Become Active...Once you become active, people in the association get to know who you are and what you do...Try to get involved in activities that will enable you to interact with others...Get to know the movers and shakers. Each association has a few key people who know everybody else and can make things happen.
Join a career networking group that will enable you to learn more about self-marketing, interviewing, and making a successful transition.
Join a group that will allow you to interact with prospective employers and clients.
3. Come to networking meetings with the mindset of, "how can I help others at the meeting," or "I would like to meet at least one person tonight who I can meet with one-on-one," or "I am really curious about what others at this meeting do for a living." There are many ways you can help others. You can provide introductions; recommend books or web sites; provide information about people, companies, or trends; or simply listen and offer emotional support.
4. Ask Questions...Simple open-ended questions are best such as, "Tell me what you do for a living," or "What challenges is your business facing these days?" This can be a great way to start and maintain meaningful conversations. Come to the meeting with an inquisitive attitude.
5. Come Early and Stay Late...
6. Follow-up Immediately...
7. Don’t Try to Sell...Selling at professional meetings is usually inappropriate. Instead, use the meeting as an opportunity to develop a relationship and schedule a meeting for a later date."
Much more on business networking is available at Networking Advice: The Riley Guide and this About.com webpage.