Networking can be your life support.  It can propel you to the next level professionally, while simultaneously enhancing different aspects of your personal life.

However, too many people don’t really know what to do at networking events, and end up wasting their time and energy.

Below are 4 things you must do to ensure that your networking efforts are not wasted.

Listen and then ask the right questions

The golden rule at a networking event, or any other business interaction for that matter is to listen more than you talk. This is classic sales stuff that everyone should know. You will only reach success when you understand what other people really want. Sometimes you will get people asking for your services but not knowing exactly why. This is your job to listen and make sure they know their reasons for it and what they are trying to achieve.

Being an active listener and asking the right questions sounds like simple stuff but it can be harder to actually do. Active listening takes effort but when you do it the right questions will pop up and the payback is there.

Limit the number of contacts per event.

The most important thing is the quality of the contacts, which means the type of contact, the relevance to your business and interests, how good a connection you’re making and the individual involved. At a typical event, five to 10 might be all you can handle. This may not seem like a lot of contacts, but it’s really more than enough when you’re talking to the right people. (That’s why it’s so important to have a networking strategy.) If you attend two events per week, that’s 10 events a month, or 30 to 50 new contacts every 30 days. Continue to do that over the next couple of months–while following up with the people you’ve met–and you’ll soon have more than enough high-quality contacts to keep you busy.

Partner up with the competition

You will inevitably bump into people doing similar things to you at networking events. Instead of having a stand-off which sometimes happens, try to find out where there can be synergies between the two of you.Remember, no single business is the sole answer to all needs. Partnering therefore with your competition might help open opportunities for the two of you to be the answer to certain deficiencies in each business’ scope of services.

When you partner with the competition during networking events, you can both introduce each other to relevant people each one of you might personally know. Think of it more as cooperation, more than competition.

Write notes on the backs of people’s cards.

Not only do notes help you remember what the other person said at an event, but it also slows you down a bit so you’re not running around trying to meet the next person. On the front of the card, you can write the date and name of the event where you met the person; on the back, jot down a few quick notes about the conversation or anything else of note. When you contact the person later, this will give you something to refer to.

Why is this act essential? Because it is very easy to waste all your efforts when you are not focused… and the worst effect is that you don’t remember a thing about all the people you hurriedly shook hands with and accepted cards from. Also, try finding out something unique about each new contact. This act alone will help you recall who and where you met someone who said hi to you at the next networking event. Jot down all these things at the back of his/her business card.