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When I started out in my career, networking terrified me. What was this crazy idea of going to places where people I don’t know gather and try to talk to them? Who came up with this torture? What if I got laughed out of there? What if I embarrassed myself? How do I even begin?

I gradually learned that networking is the key to career development. How else are you to find new ideas to bring to your work, new business opportunities, or cultivate next steps in your career? It’s all about meeting people!

Here’s five tips for maximizing your networking time:

  • Go in with an open mind. You never know who you will meet at a networking event and some will be more productive than others. Step through the door with no huge expectations other than to be open about meeting people and having some good conversations.
  • Use eye contact, open body language, and questions to engage conversation. It’s all about conveying your interest in others, not necessarily about what you need. Ask others about themselves, and they will open up.
  • In addition to being friendly, ask networkers what they are seeking and how you can help. The best conversations and contacts will come from making a connection on how you can help each other, with a problem, a resource, an introduction, and more. Look for ways to help others and follow up with those offers. Helping others will build a new relationship and come back to you in unexpected ways.
  • Focus on collecting cards, not on giving them out. While it’s great to give out your card for future follow up, it’s even better for you to collect them, so you can be sure to have the information for people you want to follow up with.
  • If you promised something, always follow up. Not only will your new contacts be impressed with your follow through, it will help create a longer term relationship with future reciprocity. Don’t let the ball drop when it’s in your court!

Walking into a room full of strangers can be scary, but remember that everyone has anxiety about meeting new people so you are all in the same boat! Think of it as an adventure that can lead to career opportunities and growth down the road. Don’t forget to have some fun and enjoy!

Kelly Mack is Vice President of WWPR and a vice president at Environics Communications in Washington, DC.