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I’m a big fan of business networking (and I’ve even written a book about it!), but there’s often a misconception that networking events have to be big business card exchanging bonanzas.

Don’t get me wrong, business cards are a valid way to exchange information, but networking events should be much more than speed dating for your business.

Last week I attended my 54th Nashville Geek Breakfast (or that’s what Wolfram Alpha tells me). Together with new and old friends, we discussed topics such as mobile apps, Twitter, Foursquare, WordPress, co-working, and travel. This was just with the few people at my end of the table. Each breakfast always leaves me energized and excited. It was particularly special because a Geek Breakfast was also taking place in Conway, Arkansas; Tampa, Florida; and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Four Geek Breakfasts across the country on the same day — with people prioritizing bacon over business cards.

What I love about Geek Breakfast is the random networking that occurs with the people you end up seated with. You never know who you will meet or what you will end up talking about. There are no sponsors and no membership fees. Just coffee, bacon, eggs, and fellow fans of all aspects of technology. Originally, I started it as a way to keep attendees of BarCamp Nashville and PodCamp Nashville — the city’s two big, free tech “unconferences” — connected between each annual event.

That said, here’s a few tips I’ve learned for keeping the conversation flowing beyond your business card:

  1. Always make new people feel welcome. Ask their name and introduce them to others in the group. Bonus points if you can introduce them to someone who works in their field.
  2. Arrive early. Try to be the first to arrive to welcome people as they join you.
  3. Read your feeds before you go, so you can be up to date on any technology news to talk about. Bonus points if you are already subscribed to VB. :)
  4. Ask open-ended questions to attendees and listen carefully to the answers. Focus on listening more than speaking.
  5. Search your event name or hashtag on Twitter before and after the event. Interact and answer the questions you find.
  6. Follow up. This one keeps the conversation flowing after the event. If you met someone you want to get to know better be sure to shoot them an email or give them a call and set up a coffee.

Networking isn’t a bad word. It’s about connecting with like-minded people. Business can certainly come as a result, but even better are the long-lasting friendships that are built from meeting in real life.

Bacon photo via Shutterstock

Dave Delaney HeadshotDave Delaney is President of Delaney Digital Marketing Consulting in Nashville, TN. He writes frequently about new and traditional methods of business networking at New Networking on his blog. Dave is also the founder of PodCamp Nashville, an annual gathering of people who love digital media and want to share their experiences with the community and  Geek Breakfast, a multi-city tech meetup where locals congregate over bacon, eggs, and plenty of coffee once a month to discuss topics like social media, digital marketing, design, programming, and ways to better their communities. His new book, New Business Networking: How to Effectively Grow Your Business Network Using Online and Offline Methods, comes out in June.

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