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There’s more to networking than just free nibbles and witty banter. Seriously. Attending networking events can lead to referrals, job leads, exposure and opportunities to grow both business and friendship circles.

While many attendees will float out, hands stuffed with business cards, dreamy-eyed and feeling inspired, many do not. Disappointed and deflated, they may deem networking a waste of time. The feeling of rejection – like a terrible date – can leave the confidence somewhat crushed.

One thing separates these two groups. Prerogative. The people who leave crushed like a sour grape are those who turn up with only a personal gain in mind. The ones who leave happy are those who are out to connect AND help others.

Real networking transpires when there’s an understanding that everyone in the room is valued equally. It’s about genuine, open and agenda-less connection. It’s about active listening, working out what others need and connecting them with people you think can help. Winning networkers transcend, “What’s in it for me?” thinking.

Here are three ways to smash networking and have fun doing it.

1.Hatch a Plan
Since every person has value, you must know your own. Before attending any networking events, be clear on what skill sets, superpowers and connections you can bring to the party. Have a loosely mapped out idea of what you want to talk about, especially how you may be able to assist and support other people, right now or in the future.

2.Network Like No-ones Watching
Desperation has a powerful vibration. People can sense it, and seasoned networkers can see it as clearly as a high viz jacket of PLEASE LOVE ME, BUT I’M ONLY OUT FOR MYSELF!! Also, when all onus is on personal gain, the pressure to succeed is insurmountable. Nerves kick in, the mouth dries out like a Jacobs Cracker, and conversation becomes stilted and unnatural. On the flipside, by networking with no ulterior motive, you’re super cool, super calm and super pro. Relationships will grow organically through a reputation for generosity and good vibes.

3. Follow Through, Don’t Leave Me Hanging
So, after a dizzying evening of free nibbles, effortless chit chat and the kind of generosity only a Buddhist monk is capable of – you’ve wowed the crowd. The next step is crucial; If you told someone you’d get in touch, do it. Keep your promises and make those introductions happen. Life is hectic, we’re all busy and distracted, but it only takes a moment to punch out an email or jump on Facebook to connect some hopeful humans. Small acts like this mean the world to people, and just one introduction could change someone’s life.

Bonus Tip
Be prepared with slinky business cards or flyers to hand out should the need arise. Don’t however dish them out willy nilly, leaving them around the room like a bread crumb trail. Save them for unique connections and their power to dazzle will not be devalued.