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I attended a great event yesterday at Staffordshire University Business School called Talking Business. This was just the latest in a series of employer engagement events the Business School have organised and it was fantastic to see around 200 business people from 70 different companies in attendance and connecting while sharing experiences and opportunities.

Before and after the formal workshop presentations the organisers scheduled several open networking sessions with a Drinks and Canape Reception after the excellent keynote speaker presentation by one of the UK’s leading and best known entrepreneurs Karren Brady. The room was buzzing as guests reflected on Karren’s presentation and made great new business connections.

The challenge for me was that I had to leave almost straight away to attend an important appointment elsewhere so I was potentially missing out on the key contact making and networking time. Interestingly however I made my greatest new connection not during the open networking but in the 5 minutes sitting in the lecture theatre awaiting the start of the keynote presentation. During that time I struck up a conversation with the gentleman next to me who just happened to be a Business Psychologist from Manchester who had travelled down to take part in the event.

It turned out that he too had to leave straight afterwards and wouldn’t be attending the Drinks Reception either.

Our 5 minute conversation was enough for us to establish several areas of key mutual interest, confirm that we already have mutual business contacts with whom we are both working, exchange business cards and agree that we both wish to follow up our initial conversation with a further 121 meeting to discuss how we can help each other.

In short what could potentially have been seen as an ‘opportunitynowhere’ became a very positive and valuable ‘opportunity now here’ because we were both happy to engage in conversation while sitting next to each other in a lecture theatre rather than as many of us do, sit quietly and say nothing.

Opportunities to connect are everywhere when you tune into them. When I teach people Networking Skills I talk about my 1st Date, 2nd Date, Meet the Family Process of Networking. We had a great 1st Date and built rapport while also establishing common ground. We have agreed on a 2nd Date i.e. our 121 meeting to learn more about each other’s businesses and services and in due course, I’m positive we will progress to the Meet the Family stage where we share and make introductions to our respective business contacts to help each other further.

The critical factor is that we are both committed to following up our initial conversation. His was the only new business card I received but in terms of success for me as a networking opportunity it was tremendous. As a presenter, I was speaking to an audience of 40 – 50 people in one of the workshops, my company and personal contact details were promoted and circulated to every delegate by the University within their delegate packs and marketing information and I made a valuable new business contact during a 5 minute conversation.

This is why I am passionate about business networking as a fantastic way to develop and grow long term business opportunities. It is the best way I know to generate strong personal connections. It’s the most effective way to leverage your time and the easiest way to work smarter rather than just harder especially when you add into the process the online networking capacity of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and the many social networking resources now available.

Over my many years of networking in business I’ve recognised that successful networkers see opportunities everywhere and look at things differently. Successful networkers read ‘opportunitynowhere’ as ‘opportunity now here’ and naturally create and act upon the opportunities they see when meeting other people.

One business card from a potential 200 may seem like a low success rate for new contacts but actually when followed up properly, it is actually a great deal more valuable than 200 cards that are collected but then not contacted again afterwards. Make your new contacts count and remember that attitude and action are critical success factors in personal and business relationship building.

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