So you’re going to a conference to network. You meet lots of people. A bit of chit-chat a bit of gossip and an exchange of business cards to ensure that you have the coordinates. That’s not what networking is about.

It doesn’t take an old gold digger to point out that it makes no sense to look for the precious metal on territory that is already claimed. He will also tell you that you need to wash a lot of dirt in your pan to find a nugget. Some people believe that when a gold vein is found right under the surface it will need no more than a toothbrush to wipe away some soil. Skilled gold miners don’t share that belief – neither does an experienced networker.

For a discovery expedition a scout is the right person. Just like scouting networking at a conference is a specialized activity. The scout’s assignment is not to look at the trees of a forest; he’s sent out to see who or what is hiding behind the trees.

The networker should not just collect business cards and take them at face value; an effort must be made to go beyond the person who handed out the card. One cannot just say “Nice to meet you. Please tell me who you are.”” A networker is an agent on a special mission with an arsenal of fact-finding methods and charms to connect and try to discover whom or what you know that may be in his interest to know. A networker must have the attitude to go where no one went before because that is where new markets clients or partners may be found that were not yet exposed to competitors.

The secret of creating a network is to build it as needed. People can recognize the difference between a sincere attempt to create a relationship and an act of desperation. Building a network shortly after starting a company or introducing a new service is likely to be perceived as promotion or an act of anxiety. Who wants to be approached and feel like the target of a promotional campaign or being confronted by someone with the approach of trying to catch a prey?

There is a belief about networking that invisibility is worse than failure and therefore one should never ever disappear or miss an opportunity to pass out business cards. This has a sense of superficiality that can repel more effectively than a scarecrow. Essential to good networking is the ability to have conversations on a wide range of topics with anyone from any background and then to leave with a lasting connection of some sort. A good networker has the anchor capabilities to bridge gaps and to establish new relationships that likely would not have happened without the efforts of that networking activity.

Networking may be one of the oldest mechanisms by which opinions on products and brands are developed expressed and spread. In modern social networking people feel more comfortable about sharing information and doing such more openly. The importance of networking has increased to the point that the word has become trendy but when it comes to practicing it one sees a lot of clumsiness and misconceptions as if it were the first time of practicing juggling with three balls.

So if you think that networking is like gold mining and that a particular conference is the perfect goldmine here is news for you. The largest producing gold mine in the world in West Irian Indonesia is also the third largest copper mine. Also in large silver mines in Utah considerable amounts of gold are recovered. What does that teach us? If you are searching for the elite you may not necessarily have to mingle with the elite.

– Cdr. Bud Slabbaert is an author and a columnist specializing in business aviation and yachting. He is working on a series of humorous stories about “”St.Tosia: the island Columbus forgot “” a fictitious island in the Caribbean. He can be reached at [email protected]