Networking is the most cost-effective, efficient marketing tool available to many executives and professionals; and the cocktail party is one of the most common networking venues. It’s also the most misused.

           Most people make their first mistake as soon as they walk into the room. They look around for friends and colleagues to talk to. That’s not networking, that’s visiting. What you should do is look around to see if there’s anyone standing off by themselves. That person has an immediate need that you can fill. That person standing off alone in the corner is very likely feeling at least a little bit uncomfortable and will welcome someone to talk to, if for no other reason than to feel less conspicuous. That’s who you should head for, introduce yourself, and strike up a conversation. Even if the other person is waiting for someone to arrive you can’t lose. You’ve already made a contact, done him or her favour, and when the awaited person arrives you’ll be given another introduction.

           If there’s no one standing off by themselves it’s fine to say hello to people you know, but keep your peripheral vision peeled for the lonely arrival and head for that person as soon as you politely can. As already emphasized, it’s best to approach a single person and it’s fine to approach a group of three or more; but stay away from pairs. You may be a saviour to the single person standing off in the corner and simply another person in a group, but to two people already engaged in a conversation you’re an interruption; so stay away unless waved over, or someone else joins them. You might also consider becoming the lonely waif and gamble on someone approaching you so that you can work the technique in reverse.

 Never go to a cocktail party without a good supply of business cards, some paper and a pen.

 People tend to keep business cards; some have drawers full of them -- and most people actually refer to them from time to time. Even if they’re going through their business cards to decide which ones they’re going to throw away, they’ll see yours. If you made a good impression they’ll keep it. If the people you’re talking too haven’t asked for a business card by the time you’re parting company, ask for one of theirs and offer one of yours. You should also watch for opportunities to give people a business card, such as writing the title of a book you’ve been discussing on the back of it, or the name of a restaurant you’re recommending. A good net worker can sometimes engineer a person leaving with two or three of their business cards. Remember, every time someone looks at your business card they’re receiving another reminder of you.

You need paper and pen to make notes about what you’ve learned about the people you meet. Some of this information will be on their business cards, but you need to make notes about spouses, children, hobbies and recreation, what they like to read, the kind of music they like, what sports they follow, and perhaps birthdays and anniversaries. (Incidentally, these are all good topics of conversation, but it’s best to stay away from bear traps such as politics and religion.) You should make these notes as soon as possible while the information is still fresh in your mind. The only thing worse than not having information is having the wrong information. Make the notes as soon as you get in your car to go home. Perhaps a visit to the washroom before you leave the party will afford you the chance. In any event, make some notes before you go to bed that night. You can properly organize them the next day.

Throughout the entire evening you need to look, act, and sound like a person who’s worth listening to and dealing with. You have to sell yourself before you can sell your firm, service or product.

We’ve already discussed what you should do, now let’s look at some things you should not do.

Don’t get into a feeding or drinking frenzy. You can’t possibly be at your best balancing a drink and two plates of food, while frantically stuffing another mini-quiche in your mouth at the same time as trying to brush off the crumbs that are polka-dotting your suit. Not exactly the image you want to convey, right?

Don’t sit; people won’t think you’re tired from a hard day’s work, they’ll just think you’re lazy. Even if you’re still suffering from that skiing accident, you’ll get more kudos and attention leaning on your crutches than you will slumped on a sofa with people tripping over your cast.

Don’t hold your drink in your right hand. Not only does it mean you will have to shift it to shake hands, but you’ll also have a cold, clammy hand.

Finally, don’t wait for things to happen; make them happen.