By Kristin Kaufman (Founder, Alignment)
There are too many networking events to attend and not enough time. Plus, everyone wants to meet the same people. How do we stand out among the rest?

I often get asked how to build an effective network. As a general rule, it’s important to build a support system that is not only relevant to you but to the other person as well. It should also be built on solid footing and not on opportunistic shifting sands. For this reason, networking could best be labeled relationship building.

Here are pointers for building new relationships:

  1. Think proactively. Decide before you attend a networking event what you hope to accomplish. Secret tip: collecting as many cards as possible is ridiculous. Think about the type of interaction you hope to build with just one or two people. The opportunity to build a sincere connection goes up significantly when you spend quality time with just a few people versus doing drive bys with 10-15 people. Ultimately, the person may not be your dream connection, but you never know who they might know.
  2. Build your network before you need it. I met several executives at a forum recently who were trying to meet people who could help them in their current job search. It’s significantly harder and less effective to build a network just in time. I equate this with going on a crash diet to fit into a bikini two weeks before a trip to the beach. Instead, nurture relationships with people before you need anything from them. Treat them the way you would want to be treated and be of value to them.
  3. Be relevant. Whenever you interact with someone, consider what you do, what you offer and what you can provide that will be relevant to the other person or their organization. Connections are made between people and the ones that stick are those that provide relevance to each another.
  4. Follow through in a timely manner. Don’t wait more than a week to reconnect with someone you’ve just met. We are all busy and the world is spinning fast. So, make it easy on the other person to remember you. Plus, you get bonus points for being organized enough to get a note out so promptly.

And finally, always remember to be present in the moment.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Kristin Kaufman is founder of Alignment, formed in 2007 to help individuals, corporations, boards of directors and non-profits find alignment within themselves and their organizations. During her 25 years of corporate experience, she held executive positions at Hewlett-Packard, Vignette Corporation and United Health Group. Her first book Is This Seat Taken? Random Encounters that Change Your Life is slated to appear in bookstores November 2011.