by Steve Adubato, PhD

I was recently talking to a friend and colleague who is giving a guest lecture at Rutgers Business School this spring on the subject of networking. As we were discussing the topic of networking, we were struck by the fact that part of how we are perceived in the world of business by our colleagues is often based on the quality of our networking efforts. He and I agreed that the art of networking is based on an intricate, complex communication art form that few of us have perfected, but all of us need to work on every day.

With this in mind, consider the following communication / networking tips and tools that will help you stay at the top of your game:

--Keep a stack of business cards with you at all times. In my case, it’s about 25 to 30 rotating cards (that I keep in a rubber band) of people who I feel I need to communicate with. These are folks I’ve met recently at receptions, meetings, speeches or events. People who have offered to get together in the future or whom I think I have something in common with in terms of business interests. I go through the business cards on a regular basis and make notes. Sometimes when I reach a dead end, I get rid of those business cards because it is clear that the person either doesn’t want to communicate, or, that the communication isn’t going anywhere. The key here is to keep an active collection of cards at your fingertips.

--Take advantage of technology. Using business cards is one thing, but inputting that information into your iPhone or BlackBerry is another. It is essential that you download the telephone number and e-mail of people you meet. Once you have quick access to these people, then communicating with them becomes a lot easier. The easier it is to find someone’s information, the more likely you are to communicate with that person via e-mail, text, or over the phone. Take the time to download this essential information because it will pay off in future networking efforts.

--Networking is also about opening the door for others on your team to connect and communicate with colleagues. It’s not enough that YOU are actively networking, but great networkers facilitate and promote the networking of others. Make sure that you are bringing your associates and colleagues in to key meetings and events and introducing them to others in the profession. Consider it “paying it forward”, sharing the wealth, spreading it around. It’s good communication Karma, plus it is the right thing to do on a professional and personal level.

--Too often, when it comes to networking, people forget the importance of following up and following through. They think it is only schmoozing, shaking hands, and collecting contacts. That’s part of it, but in the end, if people don’t trust that you will do what you say you are going to do, none of it matters. The truly great communicators in business live and die by their reputation. So, if you say you are going to call someone you’ve met at a reception, then make sure you call. If you say you are going to get together for lunch, then make sure you follow up with an e-mail and offer three or four dates for lunch. If you promise you are going to send some information by a certain date, then send it. And if you make a commitment to help someone with a particular problem, then do it. If you don’t do these things, all the handshaking and business card exchanging won’t make you an effective networker. It will make you someone that people won’t trust.