When asking for a referral, use the phrase, “Who do you know who …

The more you network, the easier it gets. But you have to keep doing it. Most people attend networking events to gain something: opportunities to grow their businesses, referrals, exposure, connections or even for job leads. Having organized over a hundred networking events, I’ve firsthand seen plenty of these people leave disappointed, dismissing networking as a complete waste of time.

Here’s the positive: I’ve also seen the opposite. I’ve seen people walk out with a handful of connections, feeling happy and inspired. The major difference between these two groups of people is this: The people who leave on a high note are those who attend with this goal in mind, to figure out how they can help others in the room.

True networking occurs when there’s an understanding that everyone in the room has equal value. It’s about people enjoying one another’s company, communicating passions and connecting with others who share those similar passions. It’s about listening, figuring out what others need, and then connecting them with people you think can help, without any intent of personal gain. The most successful networkers build genuine relationships and give more than they receive. They go beyond thinking, “What’s in it for me?” to ask “How can I help?”

To follow their approach, here are ways to network successfully and have fun doing it.

Start networking before you need it.

Seasoned networkers can smell the stench of desperation from across the room. People can sense when someone is only out to help herself. On the other hand, by networking when you have no ulterior motive, you can begin to build relationships and a reputation for being generous rather than self-serving. Be a resource. Not a sales pitch.

Have a plan.

Since every person has value, it’s essential that you know what yours is. Before you attend any networking events, get clear on what talents, strengths, skill sets and connections you can bring to the table. Map out what you want to talk about, particularly how you may be able to help other people, either now or in the future.

Forget your personal agenda.

While you may be tempted to network just to land a sale, or talk to people you normally wouldn’t have access to, that’s a mistake. Instead, make it your goal to be open, friendly and honest, and to forge connections between people who may be able to help each other. Generosity is an attractive quality and it’s something special that people will remember about you.

Never dismiss anyone as unimportant.

Make it your mission to discover the value in each person you talk to. Ask questions and listen with interest. Don’t make the mistake of discounting people due to their titles. Someone you meet may “just” be a clerk, but they may have valuable connections or knowledge you’d never learn about if you’d dismissed them.

Then, when the conversation ends, remember what that person has to offer as you move to the next.

Connect the dots.

Once you begin to listen to people and learn what they can bring to the table, you’ll start realizing how one person in the room may be able to help another. Make it a point to connect people you feel have something of genuine value to each other. When you go out of your way to make those potentially promising connections, you’re doing your part to make the networking event a success.

Figure out how you can be useful.

Before any conversation comes to a close, be sure to ask, “How can I help you?” Because it’s done so rarely, you may encounter a surprised look, but it will most likely be accompanied by an appreciative smile. While the person may not have an answer for you right away, they may have an idea later. Always close by saying something like, “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, or connect via LinkedIn or Facebook” and offer your business card.

Follow up and follow through.

If you told someone you’d get in touch with them, do it and reaffirm your intent to assist in any way you can. If you promised to introduce someone to a person you know, take the time to do it. Everyone is busy these days with jobs/businesses, families, events and commitments. Even so, it takes no more than a minute to shoot off an email to introduce two people you want to connect. They can take it from there and do the work. Just enjoy being the bridge. Little things such as this mean a lot to people. Just one introduction can end up changing someone’s life for the better. I’ve seen it happen dozens of times and it’s quite gratifying.

Believe in the power of networking.

When you believe that the true value of networking lies in helping others and you do your part, you’ll soon discover great things happening all around you. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get addicted to it and find yourself “networking” everyday, all the time. It’s a lifestyle where givers truly do gain.

If you’re looking for a women’s network to be a part of, check out Elevate Her Network! See ya there. www.elevatehernetwork.com