It’s long been known that networking helps us collect information, find like-minded mentors, learn about new jobs or positions, and develop deeper professional relationships (and friendships!). On a more personal level, networking—if done for the sake of building deeper relationships—can give you access to new communities, expand your horizons and your perception of “what’s possible,” and most importantly…you can have fun!

So, what is networking?

Networking can happen anywhere two people are together—one-on-one, at an event, or even on social media. Anytime you’re interacting with other people to exchange information and develop relationships, especially to further your career or enhance your skill set, you’re networking.

But knowing how to network—with heart and not just for an end goal (the job, the connection, the access) in mind—is important these days. Here are some tips and conversations prompts to help you show your best self, be present, and listen to the person you’re spending time with.

General guidelines

Networking is a bit like dating… Networking can be a bit like dating in the sense that you might have some anxiety of sitting down with someone new. You’ll want to make sure you don’t come on too strong because first impressions really do matter. So, be prepared! Do a little research to find out more about the person you’re getting to know. This will provide insight into your shared professional and personal interests.

Set a goal… You’ll want to identify your goal for the event or meeting. Earlier I said that you don’t want to get together just for the sake of getting something out of the meeting. Knowing if this meeting is to learn how the person you’re meeting with advanced within their career, dealt with a tricky leadership issue, or balanced their professional life with political ambitions…will help you come up with questions and drive the conversation in a way that THEY feel honored and listened to. Because as humans, we thrive in communities and making connections matters more than anything. You’ll want to be ready to listen and taking some time to come up with questions and topics is a great way to navigate the conversation. Part of being able to do this is to know your story.

“My Golden Rule of Networking is simple: Don’t keep score.” – Harvey Makay

Be generous… Who are you? What are your values? How can the person sitting or standing across from you help you? What are you giving in return? And above all, be generous! Give without remembering and receive without forgetting. This means that if they are having an issue that you know how to solve, have a template for, or a connection that could help them…you share. Without expecting anything in return. Remember…authentic networking is all about building a community of people with whom you are deeply connected and invested with. That’s infinitely more valuable than a network of people whom you barely know.

At a group or event, where you’re less likely to have researched specific individuals, you’ll still want to know exactly what you’re getting out of attending: is it meeting new people or a very specific attendee? Is it learning a new skill? Knowing why you’re there immediately instills confidence and will help you approach the room in a way that you feel most comfortable. If you’re new to networking, taking a buddy or maybe even having a drink (I did say this should be a fun experience!) might help you relax and open up a bit more to new people.

Networking using social media… Now, what about social media? These guidelines apply to all settings: over coffee, over a meal, via phone or virtual meetings, at an event, and across social media. No matter what platform you are making connections on—LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc.—you want to treat people like…well people and not avatars. Personalize your messages and give context to why you’re reaching out, comment and “like” often or use the direct messaging functions within each platform to give more context to why one of their posts resonated with you.

Be Real. Be YOU!

Above all, remember to make networking fun and only attend events and functions that you’re truly interested in. If you’re showing up at groups, meetings, and events that genuinely excite you…you’re going to find other like-minded professionals there too. And relationships build on shared interests, initiatives, and causes tend to be lasting and more fulfilling.