02/27/2015 07:02 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2015

The "New" Rules of Networking - Final Round

Rules set the tone!

I just taught my first class of the semester at Rutgers University. The first class is the most important to me. Why? Because I get to discuss the syllabus with the class while putting the wheels in motion for the entire semester. In other words - the rules!

How many absences are they allowed? How about lateness? Can they use a cell phone in class? How many assignments can they miss? Are exams curved? Can they make up work?

Without knowing the rules, my students don't stand a chance. In fact, even with the rules, some still don't stand a chance. But that's another story for another day.

Anyway, if your goal is to grow your business by networking, you need to know the rules to get the most out of every cocktail party, conference, convention, trade show, product show or networking connection.

And by get the most, I mean value. Valuable relationships!

In my last three articles, (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) I've discussed a total of 15 Networking Rules (some new, some I've written about in the past) that can help you set the tone at your next networking event.

As promised, here are five more Rules to round out the list. The final round!

Have your tools of the trade
Business cards, a couple of pens, index cards (to take notes), breath mints, a name tag - those are the tangible items you may need to have in your pockets (or on your lapel). How about the intangibles? A list of questions to ask, a set of goals for the event, fun things you want to share, a prepared (not rehearsed) elevator speech, a follow up strategy, a sense of humor and some guts.

Have a goal and a plan
Ah, the goal thing again. It's important to have a set of goals or outcomes in mind. It can be as simple as I want to have five great conversations where I feel comfortable asking questions, sharing ideas, having some laughs, articulating my elevator speech and generating a reason to follow up. Your goal could be to simply make five good connections in your target industry. My goal is always to learn something (I usually have something specific I want to learn) and meet at least three quality people in my target market. If I can accomplish that, I'm happy. What would make you happy when attending your next event?

Listen more, talk less
The more you listen, the more you will learn. In fact, if you ask great questions and shut up and listen, people will want to talk to you more. Why is that important? Because networking is about learning and helping - if you're not listening you're probably not learning. Most sales people hate to listen. Ever hear the expression, "Don't talk your way out of a sale?" Case in point.

Terminate conversations politely
Have an exit strategy while excusing yourself politely and with integrity. One thing is for certain - your conversation is going to end. Eventually. But how is that ending going to play out? It can be tricky. When you're having a good conversation, chances are it will naturally end with an action step (follow up) or a "nice to meet you." Other times, it will be awkward because there isn't a great connection. It's often less awkward if you take the initiative to end the dialogue yourself if there is nothing more that needs to be said. It can be as simple as, "It's been nice speaking with you. Let me know if I can support you in any way at this event. Good luck!"

Follow up
Always initiate follow up when there is good reason to do so. Follow up starts during your face-to-face conversation, not when you're matching business cards to the far reaches of your memory. If it makes sense to follow up (a potential client, referral source, vendor, resource), then exchange cards at the event and promise to follow up over the next 24 hours to continue the dialogue or coordinate. If there is no reason to follow up, then never bring it up.

Have fun!
This last one is a bonus! Smile! Life is too important to take seriously. If you happen to feel networking is as much fun as an uppercut below the belt, you're not alone. You may have to "fake it" for a while. Smile, be cordial and pretend to have fun. Soon, you will be. Be committed to practicing and improving and it won't be so painful. I promise!

Yes, rules are made to be broken. If you want to make true connections that lead to more business, just don't break any of mine!