5 great networking tips

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(MoneyWatch) The other day I got an email from a friend I hadn't heard from for about five years. I quickly deduced that he had a new job and had sent this email to everyone he'd ever met in his life. He was (I think) asking for feedback, and I'm afraid he got it.

Networking is a buzzword that is more abused than appreciated. But at this year's TEDGlobal conference, ace networker, investor and entrepreneur Sunny Bates provided some great tips that I wish my now ex-friend had observed:

Be generous. Help people without any obvious payback. It's impossible to know how or whether you'll be rewarded, but there's a chance you will be, and you'll feel good.

Rescue the stranded. When you see someone at a conference or a party and they look isolated and alone, go talk to them. They could be you next time. And it's really very rare that their isolation means anything meaningful.

Pay attention. Listen to the people you are with and don't let your mind or ears wander. Afraid of missing out? You will miss out if you don't give people the courtesy of your attention.

Be exact. If you know what you want, ask for it. Most people will help if they can. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to help someone but not knowing how. And don't forget to say what you can offer, too.

Trust serendipity. That person you didn't think you'd want to meet but who's standing in front of you? Take a chance and talk to them. Unless you know everything (and I haven't met that person yet), you can always learn something.

I spend a lot of my time at conferences, and I've never been to one where I didn't see some people stranded, while others pretended to talk as they scan they room for a better conversation. Those are the conferences you leave with a fist full of business cards and no relationships. You're also pretty tired because pretense is exhausting. Try these tips next time. You'll come home with fewer cards but a lot more stories to tell. And when you need them, you will have real friends out there who want to help you.

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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.