The art of networking: How to work a room to meet the right movers and shakers

Scan just about any meeting announcement, be it from an organization, a school or a proposed seminar, and you will find a portion of the event dedicated to “networking.”

To a certain extent we’re all measured by the company we keep. Hang out with losers and you will be perceived as a loser. Rub elbows with the best and brightest and people will immediately assume you are among the same ilk. The conundrum, however, is how to make those critical initial connections. It’s very easy to spot the naive and ineffective networkers. The moment they enter the room their eyes spastically zigzag from left to right and they seem to have the attention span of a gnat. Ostensibly, their goal is to find Mr. or Ms. Right, who can open doors for them.

Typically, these flitters accomplish zilch. They wear themselves out, and everyone they encounter becomes a blur by session’s end. They do themselves more bad than good by their transparent superficial modus operandi.

The much more effective way to make friends and influence those need-to-know others at gatherings is to arrive with a plan. First, gain a general understanding of the type, or better yet the names, of key people who will be attending the event and then focus on those you want to meet.

When you arrive certainly greet all of your existing acquaintances, but refrain from getting pigeonholed. Instead, use your time to your advantage by meeting those who can make a difference. The initial conversation with those whom you have predetermined as relevant should be short and to the point. By having done your homework, you’ll know a few significant facts about each person you’ve identified that will resonate with him or her.

Here is how to turn a cursory conversation into a potential meaningful business relationship. First, document what you learned about your new acquaintance by simply notating your intel in the notes section of your computerized contact list. An ancillary benefit is that at the next encounter, after a quick review of your notes, you will come across as one who cares with a steel-trap memory.

On the following day send a very brief email to your new acquaintance mentioning the initial meeting, what you discussed and your hope to see them again.

Wait about a week and then send another message, but include something of interest which you will have unearthed referencing the notes you recorded. This should be a less-than-widely circulated news article or bit of information that you think will be spot-on with your new contact. Typically, if you hit the mark he or she will send you back a short note of thanks. After this it’s time to cut the thread of the to-and-fro emails, pick up the phone and call with something that will peak their interest — not just “let’s do lunch.”

Effective networking means learning something about just who it is you want to know. Building enduring relationships is accomplished by positioning yourself as a subject-matter authority on a specific topic, as well as a go-to person.

Rubbing elbows with diverse people is not just for entrepreneurs

Rainmakers are known for networking skills. Next to sky-high core competency and type-A drive, networking is the most valuable skill. Entrepreneurs who are poor networkers often fail. The business is out there, and the best way to find it is talking to one person, then another and another.

Foreign born U.S. billionaires are a strong testament to the power of networking. Most made their wealth the most common way — building something from nothing while learning a new language and a new culture. They sold their product person-to-person — users, investors, resellers and improved the skill as they steered their business into prominence.

But they also insist that their employees network.

It’s a harsh fact that employees by definition aren’t the networking entrepreneurs we are. But we bosses make diamonds out of coal. We seek better rainmakers than ourselves. I worry about that daily.

It would put me at ease, both to grow the business, and for succession planning, were I assured my team could build a better empire than mine.

What makes a team

My litigation partner, Scott Bratton, is a great networker. He works the clients and the courts, and his cases are often precedent-setting in the Board of Immigration Appeals, Immigration Court and Circuit Courts. His reputation makes rain aplenty.

My other partner, Francis Fungsang, has built up our corporate practice. This year he joined Leadership Cleveland’s program, Cleveland Bridge Builders. Bridge Builders will hone his interpersonal and leadership skills while meeting with peers from businesses across the region, working community projects.

I constantly push the rest of my team at networking opportunities. My associates, like my partners, are buried doing filings, meeting clients across a spectrum of circumstances and traveling across the country. They appear with and speak for corporate and individual clients in court or with other officials. Their noses are as close to the grindstone as mine. So I encourage them to rub elbows with diverse folk, both potential clients and others.

Other horizons

Networking isn’t just for business development. I love meeting diverse people to broaden my experience beyond my world of drafting briefs, winning appeals and trials. I need to be where I’m available to help, to see and meet different interesting people. If business develops from this, that’s wonderful. If not, just learning can be equally wonderful; so too, for my team.

My team networks in associations and professional clubs; community heritage organization events celebrating cultural awareness; awards ceremonies — a growing development tool that works great for networking; and community training, where we provide free information with a sales pitch.

I have an immigration radio show broadcast in three cities, five days a week, in three languages. My attorneys sit in for me occasionally. My team volunteers on nonprofit boards. One of our team members frequently blogs about the events he attends. We call the blog “Out and About,” fashioned after the work of the late Cleveland Press columnist Winsor French.

Don’t let your team just stare at the clouds. Show them how to network, and they’ll make it rain.

Margaret Wong is the founder of Margaret W. Wong & Associates Co. LPA. Margaret has been practicing immigration law for more than 38 years and is internationally renowned as an expert in the field. She is a co-chair of the National Asian American Bar Association’s Immigration Law Committee and an adjunct professor of Immigration Law at the Case Western Reserve University
School of Law. She has the highest rating, AV, from Martindale-Hubbell and is recognized as a “Super Lawyer” and among the “Best Lawyers in America” by her peers. Visit

It’s more than small talk that helps you connect; be genuine

During my initial career as an equity derivatives trader, networking was completely unnecessary.

Fast forward 10 years, and I now co-run a shopping center investment company. I pretty much failed at my first networking event for investors.

So, I did my research and I learned what it takes. It’s not that hard, and can be divided into three helpful categories of achieving success in networking: social media, social events and meaningful introductions.

Social media

LinkedIn has become the pre-eminent social media platform for business. In my experience, it has two extremely important uses for networking: 1. Recruiting talent and 2. Researching people’s photos and bios either before or after meeting people at formal introductions and social events. This is an essential and indispensable step in preplanning networking events and in the follow-up afterward.

Social events

First, you must go into social events with an authentic desire to meet new people and a willingness to be vulnerable. If you go in with a purpose to meet only “important people” with an expectation that a conversation will result in some concrete business outcome, you may be disappointed. No one wants to talk to that superficial person at the party. Second, study the body language and positioning of people in a room. Target the person who is standing alone with his or her drink looking mildly uncomfortable.

The second target would be the group that is talking, but not too closely together, thereby indicating that they are not in an intense conversation. If you walk into the group and introduce yourself, either the group will continue their earlier conversation, or your entrance will cause a break in the topic.

If your entrance causes a break, you will need the five questions that I learned from Vistage speaker, Boaz Rauchwerger: 1. “Where are you from originally?” 2. “What brought you here?” 3. “Do you have a family?” 4. “What do you do?” 5. “What did you want to be when you were growing up?”

If you find out that the person you are talking to is the wife that accompanied her husband to his work conference, don’t cut the conversation short and look for your next target. It’s rude and inauthentic. One of my best business contacts came from meeting the wife of a senior executive of an important company in my industry.

Meaningful introductions

Often there will be specific people you want in your network, but there won’t be an “event” at which to meet them. In this case, you need to find out if you have any in common in your current network (I use LinkedIn for this).

If you do have someone in common, you need to ask for a “meaningful introduction.” Most people will do this for you as long as you are doing it for them as well.

Learning how to network and embracing it has been life-changing for me. I love learning the uniqueness of everyone I meet. It’s been great for business, but mostly it’s been a lot of fun.

Yoel Mayerfeld is principal and managing director of Chase Properties LTD. Visit