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I go to software conferences. I proactively try to meet the people I sit near and the presenters. I am often the last one to leave a session room and I have lots of good conversations and meet interesting people, and I give them my business card. In short, I do everything the answers to this other question suggest.

However, I haven't built my network this way. The people I meet never call me back, and I have NO reason to call them. I can't remember the faces to the names, nor most of what we discussed. I never seem to meet anyone who can help me with anything. No one wants to invite me to any evening events, and if I suggest an evening meet-up, they always either have other plans or just want to relax alone.

Indeed, I wonder what kind of help I actually need, as I am not looking for a new job. It'd also be nice for me to help them, but they don't seem to need the help either (and I've tried to offer in a non-arrogant way).

What am I missing? How do I build my network for the future when I have nothing I need to network about today?

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I've always considered networking to be all about making contacts in case you need them in the future. So be sure you're giving out your business cards, with your name, contact information, and job title. Next time they need someone of your profession, there's a chance they'll remember you if you left a favorable impression on them, and give you a call. (Also, getting business cards is good too, so if you need someone of their profession you can call them up, but its mostly useful if you can remember who you thought you'd like to work with, and who you wouldn't) –  Rachel Jan 18 '13 at 19:37
    
Thanks for the response, Rachel, but I still am not sure what Iwould do. So four years after a conference, I call a guy up that I talked to for twenty minutes, "Hey John, remember me from DevConnections 2009? No? We talked at the FooBar session hosted by John Smith? No? Well, I wanted to see if you could...?" Doesn't seem so great. What am I missing? –  Patrick Szalapski Apr 30 '13 at 2:17
    
I would approach them with the assumption that they've forgotten me, so there's no pressure for them to say something negative such as that they've forgotten you. Something like "Hey John, this is Rachel Lim. You may not remember me, but we met at DevConnections 2009. I ran into a situation where I need someone of your talents, and you made such a great impression on me that I immediately thought of you" or some such nonsense of that nature :) –  Rachel Apr 30 '13 at 11:56
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4 Answers

I have no reason to call them

Networking (, The art of) is not an endeavour you always undertake for immediate or medium-term gain. You don't need some life-threatening emergency to reach out to someone. LinkedIn, through it's endorsement and sharing of articles gives an easy way to stay on a contact's radar for no cogent reason. Think long-term. I presume you're familiar with the HTTP protocol as a developer. You know what happens to a HTTP session when the user doesn't do anything for a while? It dies. And this is what will happen to all those links the business cards and chin-wagging you engage in at conferences. You need to find a way to chip in a hello (read: ping) how's the state of "The Business"(whatever that may be for your contact) every couple of weeks/months or you'll just fade into the ether.

I can't remember the faces to the names, nor most of what we discussed.

This is your problem then. To sort this out, I'd recommend you start by striking up conversation on something you're actually interested in. Not B.S-ing your way through a topic or subject you couldn't give a flying dutchman about. Also pick your targets carefully, in the same vein. 3 business cards from people you actually have stuff in common with will serve you better (and be easier on your memory) than a fistful of business cards from people you barely have anything in common and you're going to forget as soon as you turn heel.

No one wants to invite me to any evening events, and if I suggest a evening meet-up, they always either have other plans or just want to relax alone

This might be a combination of not having anything in common with your acquaintances, hanging in the wrong circle or coming off as not being genuine enough. I meet someone and it seems (s)he's only hanging out with me for superficial reasons or for what he can get out of me, I bob and weave until we fall out of touch. Unless I need something from him too. "Let's be friends first" eh? Genuineness goes a long way with me. Just today I made a professional contact and after the first 15 minutes of conversation, the dude dropped a couple of colourful words and I was sure we'd connected there. I'm not saying you should go all Samuel L. Jackson on your contacts, but try to loosen up a bit, let them see a bit of the real you.

I never seem to meet anyone who can help me with anything

Again, think long term. And try not to be grabby. You can't expect to mine a contact for all possibilities after the first meet. Typically you'll only get to second base after the 2nd-3rd meet. Impatience sets in when you're expecting short-term turnaround on a contact (see my first point) and you have too many of them in the first place. Pace yourself and invest yourself in someone you have a solid link with.

So to summarize,

  1. Find a medium (Not too invasive) that lets you stay on your contact's radar and possibly pop in some pleasantries from time to time. Ideally, such a medium should also let you stay abreast of your contact's activties (only in a way that concerns you anyway) and let's you share your interests with your contact. Yes, I've basically described social networking. LinkedIn has a great set of features (Sharing articles, endorsing skills etc) that allow you to do just this in a minimally intrusive manner

  2. At your conferences, don't shoot for quantity. Shoot for quality contacts, people you share interests with, with whom you have a connection. Relax and be yourself (to a large an extent as possible without looking unprofessional)

  3. Lose the "I'm here to meet people with whom I'll have a mutually beneficial relationship starting next week" outlook. Meet these people and give the contact time to mature and bear good fruit

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Work on remembering the people you meet.Take notes. Put some description of them on the back of their business card (you did ask for a business card didn't you?). Just don't take their picture, too creepy.

Sincerely find out about the problems they're facing. This occurs after you get to know people after some conversation and discovery of common ground and like interests. It's not the result of just asking, "What are your problems?" They came to a conference and not a therapist's office. Keep asking around for the best bars if you're into that.

Do something for them. Follow up with a thank you email. Send a link to an article that made you think of their situation. It will take time before you find people that respond to this, so don't keep score.

Get more involved with local groups. This will give you some more time. Offer to help. Try and find a guest speaker, alternate places to meet, companies to donate SWAG. If it's a job you want, I think people in your area are going to be a much better resource. Some groups; they're made up of a bunch of people looking for a job and may not be in a position to offer any help, but you never know.

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There are two kinds of networking that happen at conferences. In the majority of cases, you meet a total stranger at lunch. You spend an enjoyable 10 minutes chatting, and exchange business cards, but there's no real reason for you to be in each other's lives. You don't work with similar tech or in similar industries or in similar geographies or whatever. Neither of you can offer the other much beyond conversation and friendship, but you don't instantly bond as friends. You add each other on LinkedIn and that's as far as it goes.

But sometimes, it goes a little differently. It turns out the other person runs a user group in your very own town, or in the town where your parents live that you visit pretty often. Or is running an open source project you've been thinking about contributing to. Or works somewhere that is hiring and came here to find candidates. Or just read a great book and wants to tell you about it, and it really is a great book. Or, because "what you want might be what I need to give", the other person might be thinking about speaking at user groups, and lives in the town where you run one, or visits that town a lot. Or is ready to contribute to an open source project and already knows about yours. Or is interested in a topic you care about and really wants a book recommendation. These conversations are golden. In twenty minutes your life can change.

Sometimes, the only difference between those two scenarios is luck: who you happen to speak to. Other times, the difference is knowing what you want. Do you want to learn more about something specific? Do you want to be one of those people who seems to know half the speakers? How about that person you know who does a web search for a problem, hits a blog link, and says "oh, this is XYZ's blog, good stuff, we can trust this one" and you wonder how it's possible to know all the bloggers and know which ones are well-informed and who works where and such? Do you want a new job, are you looking for a great book or a great course, do you wish you could blog or speak at user groups or contribute to open source? When you know what you want you are much more likely to meet people who could help you get it. Maybe that third person you spoke to knows a user group leader and would totally have introduced you, but the topic never came up.

You say "I never meet anyone who can help me with anything." Do you know what you need help with? Do you know what you want? That's the key.

Know what you want, don't be ashamed of telling people what you want, and talk to lots of people so the luck factor can kick in. Also do your networking in the right places. You mention talking to people at the same sessions as you, and that's definitely closer to the right place than the lunch table is - after all, you know they're interested in this topic. Get in the habit of evaluating "the room" to see if it's a gold mine of people who have what you want, and make an extra effort when it is.

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How do I build my network for the future when I have nothing I need to network about today?

Perhaps ask these questions to yourself: What do you expect from the network in the future? If you don't have any need now, what would happen that will change the need? And why is that change not happening now?

On help, the questions are - what skill set do you have to help them? Are they looking for help at all? If you are not looking for a job, what exactly are you after? If you need help, what kind of help are you looking for: guidance? skilled work? other opportunities? etc.

When I visit conferences, I generally talk to people to find out what they work on, what their interests are, etc. and I leave it there. I would only network with them beyond the conference, only if they can help me getting things done - business wise or technical skill wise. If I need some one's help, then I would approach them with the exact set of things I need help with(they might try and really help if they see that my request for help is genuine).

On the other hand, people who run businesses or people who are building something seriously do not want to associate with people who help for free. They would rather pay some one and get the job done for sure rather than depend on helper who can leave the project at his wish. So, offer help only if you mean to do so.

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on "help for free" I don't want you to write code for me for free, but if you expect me to pay you for introducing you to someone I hire, or someone I get billable work from, or some other great opportunity, then you are likely to be disappointed. That kind of free help is what networking is all about –  Kate Gregory Jan 22 '13 at 17:21
    
@KateGregory Agree with you. And I believe that's the meaning of networking. –  Sundeep Jan 23 '13 at 13:20
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