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Conference attendees network in Wales, U.K, in 2016. [Image: RenewableUK Cymru]

Networking can be daunting and uncomfortable. In optics and photonics, many are used to happily discussing fiber or optical networks, but not themselves or their career aspirations.

The art of “selling yourself” doesn’t come easily to many, especially those who are used to professional interactions with only their peers or like-minded professionals. But with an action plan, such as a prepared list of discussion points or questions to ask fellow networkers, networking can become, over time, a more comfortable experience.

Think ahead

Elana Lyn Gross, a professional and personal development blogger, shared her list of “The Best Questions to Ask At Networking Events” with Forbes. The list, published in late spring 2016, fields recommendations from successful businesswomen regarding the questions they use in conversational networking. The 10 questions range from the simple—“How did you hear about this event?”—to the more personal—“How can I be helpful to you right now?” But all, according to the author, “start conversations that will forge genuine relationships.”

Different types of networking events can inspire different talking points. For instance, if you’ve traveled to another locale for an event, one interviewee recommends asking a local about sights to see and things to do. Or, if the networking event features a speaker or panel discussion, ask someone sitting nearby what they think of the discussion.

Come prepared

Mike Brubaker, chief executive officer at Blackford Ventures, USA, took to LinkedIn to share his thoughts on networking preparation, aptly titled, “Do’s and Don’ts of Attending a Networking Event.” Brubaker, who says that in his more than three decades in business, he has “attended more networking events than I can count,” also offers broad advice.

At networking events, which the author considers some of “the toughest environments to come across,” Brubaker suggests not drinking too much, for, well, obvious reasons. He does recommend arriving early, and with business cards in tow. Then, when it comes time to leave, “Always end your night on a positive note and leave at an appropriate time with confidence that you’ve met some great connections because chances are you did.”

Networking, which is an especially important activity for job applicants who are applying while unemployed (so says the Washington Post) doesn’t have to be viewed as a chore or anxiety-inducing endeavor. With time and the adoption of easy tips for conversation and etiquette, networking may certainly become easier.