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Diane Darling explains how to network effectively, one-on-one, at professional events

By David Hugh Smith

This is the second in a four-part series about Diane Darling. Diane is founder and president of Effective Networking, Inc., a Boston-based company. She also has written two books on networking. Diane presented the PDC workshop “Effective Networking” in January.


Some people would rather walk barefoot, across shards of glass, than attend an event where they need to talk with strangers. Career fairs, professional conferences, and other types of group-networking activities can seem a daunting obligation.

Help is here in the form of Diane Darling. For over 15 years Diane has helped professionals navigate the sometimes placid, sometimes choppy, waters of career networking.

In this article we look at Diane’s ideas for networking when it’s “showtime” — when you need to meet, and speak confidently, with people at group events.

Who can I help?

Many people go to networking events looking to get something. They want to pick up new contacts with people who will help them professionally. They want to gather industry tips that will help them advance in their jobs and their careers. Moreover, many people want to … get help finding a client, or a job.

But Diane recommends: “When you go into a room you need to think ‘Who can I help?’” She says “I’m very focused [at networking events] on what I can do to help [the people I meet].” This, Diane says, “differentiates me from everyone who is saying, ‘What do you have for me?’”

Speaking for herself she says, “I can’t help this person move [between homes] — I’m not that strong. So what is the match? [What can I do to help this person?]” She adds that if there’s not a match in terms of one’s talents that “doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It just means I don’t have the skillset [to help them] right now.”

As part of her overarching attitude of going to networking events to help others, she plays matchmaker, by linking people who might benefit from meeting each other.

Diane also works to include the “lone wolves” — people standing by themselves in the corner with a piece of pastry and a look of wariness. Yes, not focusing just on the people everyone else wants to meet may seem selfless — and it is! But it’s also how to meet important people who aren’t social butterflies.

“When people say they were disappointed about a networking event I ask what they were hoping for,” Diane says. “And they’ll say ‘I was hoping to get a client, or get a job.’

“[But] there’s a difference between networking and job hunting. Networking is getting to know people without expectation of a transaction.”

Bottom line, by focusing on helping others you simultaneously demonstrate your willingness and ability to provide a valuable contribution, while removing the uncomfortable pressure to meet and impress people who might give you work.

Get ready to engage

Diane asks: “What is it you want another person to remember about you?” Before attending a networking event Diane suggests you “think about what you can [say] when you introduce yourself.”

Create a brief description of who you are she says. Something you can quickly tell someone else before they get bored. Include what you do, a short bio, and something unique about you that will enable them to remember you. Then, “Say this over and over and over again for when you [actually] introduce yourself.”

Another important strategy: “You want to make it easy to remember you — so say something about your name.” In other words, come prepared to tell people something that makes it easy to remember your name.

Meanwhile, it’s helpful to dress so that interacting is effortless. “Keep business cards in separate pockets” — your cards in one pocket and the cards you take in another. You don’t want to be handing out someone else’s business card. A pen and a pad to write down notes also is required.

For women, “the difficulty is finding outfits having pockets” — but it’s worth the effort to find clothes that work at events. For both sexes: “Travel light — stuff becomes a distraction.” And then when you get there, “Don’t let the food get in the way.”

All dressed and ready with your intro to you ready? Next step: “Go early, before it gets chaotic.” Early also is good because “it’s less intimidating … to walk into a room with a few people than walk into a room that’s full.”

In her book The Networking Survival Guide: Practical Advice to Help You Gain Confidence, Approach People, and Get the Success You Want Diane also suggests these preparatory ideas, among many others, for job fairs:

  • Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.
  • Study the company’s website.
  • Treat everyone with respect.
  • Learn about the people you will be meeting.

What do you do when you’re standing by yourself?

So now you are there. And you are standing next to the hors d’oeuvres tray with no one to talk to but the shrimp. You can approach someone nearby and get the conversation started by asking, “Have you tried the shrimp?” And then, “Tell me how you know Mary, the woman who organized this event.”

“’Tell me’ opens up the conversation.” Then, “Focus on the person you are talking to” and not on what you want, or the next person you want to see.

In “Networking Survival Guide” Diane recommends further spurring conversation by asking questions like: “What made you decide to come to this event?” And: “What other organizations in the _____ industry do you belong to?” Beyond that, she says: “[f]ocus on neutral topics” — not politics or religion! — and “[r]eplenish your conversation starter repertoire” by reading newspapers and taking other steps to stay current in terms of news, and know what’s happening in the business world and your industry.

“If you are feeling nervous,” Diane says in “Survival Guide,” “you are thinking too much about yourself. This is about making the other person feel important.”

Other helpful advice on conversations Diane offers in her book include: “Listen.” “Be sincerely interested in others.” “Find commonalities.”

Another key part of achieving success at a networking event is graciously disengaging when “the meal is over.

“You say, ‘Dave, I have enjoyed this conversation with you. I look forward to seeing you again sometime. Would you like to join me and we’ll go over to the appetizers and talk with some other people over there?’ Or I’ll say, ‘This has been a wonderful. I look forward to seeing you again at the end of the event.’

“That’s not a rejection. It just means that it’s over. [It’s not a bad thing.] It’s just done.”

Après meeting people

After meeting people, how do you stay in touch with them? Diane says in “Networking Survival Guide” that “The difference between successful networking and unsuccessful networking is follow-up.”

In the next issue of the PDC Post we will look at a few recommendations for staying productively in contact that Diane makes in “Survival Guide.” Here are a couple: “If possible, when you are communicating with [someone at an event], ask how he prefers to be contacted.” And “Use e-mail when time is absolutely of the essence, but your voice/tone isn’t.”

“Networking,” Diana says in her “Survival Guide” book, “is an ongoing relationship based on mutual benefit. The benefit does not need to be constant, but establishing and maintaining the relationship ensures that when a need arises, the connection is there.”


The final two articles on Diane and networking, upcoming in the PDC Post, will provide further useful networking tips, and details about Diane’s two books, including her compact handbook, “Networking for Career Success: 24 Lessons for Getting to Know the Right People.”


David Hugh Smith serves as editor of PDC publications. He also is a freelance writer/editor/oral historian. His email address is:

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