I’ve just come back from a networking event, the first formal such event I’ve ever attended. I drove out through unplowed roads, which made a 20 minute drive take closer to 60 minutes. I wasn’t the only one, however, as about 60 people attended, although some did arrive late.

I had been briefed as to what format these events tend to follow, and so I had my “elevator speech” prepared, a small infomercial rehearsed, and plenty of business cards to hand out. I wasn’t coming to buy anything, but neither was I coming to sell. I was there to meet people, make connections, and hopefully, in a while, once we’ve established some sort of relationship, exchange contracts and clients.

When I arrived, I was given a card with 3 numbers on it. I picked up a cup of coffee and headed over to the table with the appropriate number on it. There was no one sitting there, but then again, I was still about 20 minutes early. A few minutes later, a couple other people sat down at my table, and we started chatting about our work. The formal program had not yet begun, and I was connecting to 2 other people already.

The program kicked off with the room almost filled (10 tables with 6 seats at each) with an introduction by the chair of the Jewish Chamber of Commerce Toronto, Daniel Sonshine, about the purpose of the event, and a small tribute to UJA, with which the Jewish Chamber of Commerce is affiliated. Sarah Lambersky picked up the introduction with our instructions: each person would have 2 minutes to introduce themselves to their table. At the end of 12 minutes, everyone would get up, move to their next table, and we would repeat, and then again for a third table.

In my preparations for this event, I read that before you trade business cards, have a reason to trade. Apparently, I was the only one in the room to have read that advice, because before I could blink, I had 5 business cards sitting in front of me. Oh well, I guess I’ll hand out mine, and hope that people don’t just toss it in the recycling.

The event went well, with my meeting 13 other people during the round table portion of the event (2 people were at my table twice). But in my opinion, the best part of the event started when we stopped the round table, and began to mingle.

First, I went over to someone who had introduced herself to me at the table as a graphic artist. I got her website so that I could see a sample of her work, and will be forwarding her contact information to a few people I know who might be hiring. I then ran into someone I had seen around, and found out what he does. Turns out, he has a need for custom software from time to time, but he usually outsources it to India. He knows one of my current clients fairly well, and is going to be in touch with them for a referral. I then met another IT consultant, who focuses on web design and search engine optimization, which was another card to go into the special to follow up on pocket.

Another person came up to me, looking to strike conversation. He’s in sales, marketing advertising space in a trade magazine. While I don’t think the two of us had much in common, although we did chat for a while, he introduced me to someone he had met earlier in the evening, who has connections to a large number of small and medium sized businesses. I chatted with David for a while, though, and gave him some tips on improving his introduction, as he had mentioned that some people got confused as to what he does. I also gave him the title of the book I had been reading on networking, Make Your Contacts Count, as it may help him with future events.

At the end of the evening, I left with about 20 cards, due to the desire on the part of most participants to hand out as many as possible. Of those, about half will likely end up in the recycling, but 10 contacts for 2 hours of effort is a pretty good return on my time, as long as I remember to follow up on them, which is my task for the next few days.