Last week, Econsultancy and Lemon Studios hosted the Lemon Summer Party 2008.

Events like these provide some of the best opportunities to network with people in the industry and if you’re not attending events like this, you’re missing out.

But if you’ve ever attended an industry party or conference, you probably know just how challenging networking can be when you find yourself at a venue with hundreds of people.

This is especially true if you’re not a social butterfly.

From business card overload to aggressive attendees selling you something from the first word on, networking at a party or conference isn’t always as easy as you’d think it should be.

I love networking and have been attending events for years so here are some tips for networking based on my experiences.

Have a Plan

While you need to go to networking events with an open mind and flexibility, having a general plan never hurts. Do you have any specific goals? Are there people you know who will be attending that you want to meet?

If you’re floating aimlessly from person to person, sitting by the wall waiting for something to happen or hanging out by the bar, you’re not accomplishing anything.

Going into an event with a general game plan and some idea of what you’d like to accomplish by the end of the event will help ensure that you maximize the opportunity to meet the right people.

Don’t Go Business Card Crazy

I have a very simple rule: I don’t volunteer my business card to somebody unless I think that person has a real reason to contact me and if I don’t believe that I can help that person in some way. I will, of course, always give one to somebody who asks me for mine.

And I don’t ask for a business card if I don’t think that there’s a reason for me to contact the person I’m talking to after the conversation is over.

While this may seem a bit elitist to some people, I look at it as a courtesy – I have no interest in giving someone a business card that they have every reason to discard. And when I meet someone with whom I see little reason to invite further contact with, I do them the favor of keeping their pockets one business card lighter.

The reality is that not everyone you meet at an event is going to be a prospective customer, employer, business partner or friend. And that’s okay.

Don’t Waste Your Time and Don’t Waste Other People’s Time

Although networking is a social experience and should be treated as such, let’s be honest – you want to network with people with whom there may be some business opportunity (now or in the future) of mutual benefit.

Therefore, if you’re having a conversation with someone with whom it is clear there is nothing of mutual interest, don’t waste your time or theirs by forcing the extension of the conversation. Simply move on once it’s run its course.

In my own experience, people sometimes extend conversations that aren’t going anywhere because starting conversations is difficult for many people ,and they’d rather stay in one regardless of how pointless it is.

If you have this habit, forcing yourself to break it will work wonders for your social life – in and out of business.

Don’t Be “The Salesman

Networking events are great places to meet new customers, employers, business partners and friends. But few people at a party or conference like “the salesman.” You know – the guy who is selling you on some product or service before he even knows your name.

Don’t be the salesman. Parties and conferences are rarely the ideal place for the hard sell. Discuss business by all means where appropriate, but be sure you’re whetting the appetite – not destroying it.

Follow Up

When you meet someone interesting at a party or conference and exchange business cards (because you think there’s a potential relationship to be had), be sure to follow up promptly via email.

A follow-up email is always a nice courtesy and is often the first step towards building a relationship.

Your email should be short and let the other person know that you enjoyed meeting them.

Be sure to mention something specific about the conversation you had so that they remember who you are (and know that you really remember who they are and what you discussed).

If there’s an immediate business opportunity that was discussed, be sure to ask for a follow-up meeting or conference call ASAP.

Have Fun!

Parties and conferences are certainly held for business purposes but who says you can’t mix business with pleasure?

If you remember one thing – remember to have a good time. People naturally gravitate to those who are clearly enjoying themselves, and if you’re having a good time, maximizing your networking success will be that much easier!