I was out for coffee with a former client the other night, and she was praising my networking prowess, saying that I was the best networker she knew… it was the third time this week that someone had said something like this to me, and each time I felt a little shocked. Me? A good networker? How did that happen?

I am the person whose hands sweat at the thought of being in a room full of people I don’t know, unless I get to be on stage, where I don the persona of a much more confident person. I am someone who can’t stand small talk. I am the person who quit my job to start my own business three years ago, and realized that I knew nobody except for people I had worked with because of my complete lack of networking prowess…

But she was right. Over the past three years, my network has grown exponentially. It is rare that an HR person in Toronto is mentioned whom I have not met, heard of through another person, or interacted with via technology. So how the heck did I get here?

Here are my most useful tips for going from sucky to superstar networker.


The magic of Twitter is that it is such an open network. I can honestly say that it has been my number one social networking tool and has completely revolutionized my real life networking ability. I believe that Digital Fluency – the ability to connect and communicate using technology – is a key competency for any business leader today, and my use of Twitter is a big part of that. A few things that I do on Twitter to meet awesome people in real life:

1. Join chats about things I am interested in. There are tons of chats, where people use a hashtag to converse and answer questions during a regular time slot. It’s a great way to connect with people interested in the same things you are, and to break the ice when you chat with them in real life. Check out how to participate in a twitter chat if you’ve never experienced one.

2. Search for people locally. Twitter’s search capabilities allow you to find people who are tweeting about a certain topic or who have certain keywords in their profile. Just type your search words in the search bar, click the “Search for all people for…” link, and then narrow the search to “Near me”. Once you’ve found people you want to meet, comment on their tweets, introduce yourself, start a conversation. Once you’ve connected online, invite them to a phone discussion or a coffee meeting offline.

3. Follow event hashtags and coordinate a meet up. Most events these days have a hashtag associated with them. Follow the hashtag ahead of time and when you arrive at the event, and connect with others using the hashtag. Arrange a meeting at break time at a certain location. I can’t tell you how much this has made a difference for me. When I know that there will be a few friendly faces from Twitter at an event, I feel much less alone and awkward. It’s a great way to meet technology friends in real life. Check out the pic below from when a group of us met at the HRPA conference in 2014!

The Rule of Three

I use the rule of three in two ways. First of all, it helps me choose who to talk to. I used to walk into a networking event and try to find the smallest group to interact with. Usually this would be two people, and tying to break into the conversation was extremely awkward. I have since learned to look for odd numbered groups – 1, 3, or 5 people. It is much easier to strike up a discussion with the person who is less actively involved this way. However, the Twitter intro first is still a great help.

My second use of the “rule of three” is that I set a small goal when I attend an event. Three people. I just like to meet three people that I want to talk to more and will follow up with afterwards. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when you join a table and someone starts tossing their business cards around without any discussion first. When I meet too many people, I don’t get to really know them, and I don’t have the time to follow up later. Setting a reasonable goal of meeting three great people is much better than meeting 20 people I’ll never speak with again. It also helps to relieve some pressure.

Scrapping Small Talk

One of the things I have always dreaded about networking is small talk. I used to study the local newspaper before I attended an event, trying to come up with something interesting to ask people about. Now, I ease off the specific topics a little, and ask open questions like “What was the best thing that happened to you today”, “What do you love about where you work?” or “What are you hoping to learn about here tonight?” These sorts of questions open up a much more interesting discussion than talking about the weather or even local news, sometimes. For me, they help to feed my natural curiosity, too!

Genuine Interest and Curiosity

It is pretty obvious when you’re speaking to someone who can’t wait to move on to someone else. Rather than looking for the next possible connection to come along, keep focused on the person you’re speaking with. If you’re not genuinely interested in them, don’t waste your time or theirs. Move on. A simple “it has been great meeting you. I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening” is fine. They’re probably not interested in you either. With that said, if you’re like me, you have an insatiable curiosity in almost anyone. It’s all about asking the right questions to learn about them (see “Scrapping Small Talk” above).

A Love of Connecting Other People

One of the things that inspires me is helping other people connect with people that can help them. As I talk with people, I think of who I know that could help them. I usually leave an interaction with someone to introduce them to. This may stem from my long-ago past as a bartender. I loved introducing two solo bar guests based on a common interest that I had learned, and then letting them talk amongst themselves (mostly so I could get my work done!). I saw friendships develop and it was great to see those lonely guests come in together after the initial introduction. I still get excited when I connect people, on a more business-oriented level now. It also gives you a reason to follow up, rather than sending a generic “nice to meet you” email.

I hope these tips help – they’ve certainly changed the way I interact at conferences and networking events, and allowed me to build a network of really amazing friends, collaborators, clients, mentors and more

Do you like networking?

What other techniques have you used to meet others?