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Water cooler: Dear Julia, you are cordially invited to our networking event

I receive many such invitations, but this one in particular caught my attention. Not merely a networking event, this was a network of networks' event. Really? How can you claim to be a network of networks? Is it a knockout competition? Does the winner stay on?

Corporate life is entangled with the mesh (the collective noun, surely) of networking events and I found the very thought of networking at a "network of networks" event suffocating for fear of being trapped in the event net and never working my way out.

For many people – me included – the thought of walking into a room buzzing with conversation can be daunting.

Everyone seems to know everyone else already and is deep in discussion. Take heart that people at a networking event actually expect to have their conversations interrupted. I'd suggest that you seek out the most relaxed-looking group and wait for a natural break before introducing yourself.

I was recently the guest speaker at my old school's prize-giving ceremony and was asked to offer words of wisdom to the school-leavers.

I suggested that, in the effort to make a good impression at interviews, they consider the three Ps: be present (engaged and interested), have presence (be memorable for a good reason) and be presentable (suited and booted appropriately).

The same principles apply in networking. Engage in firm eye contact but don't overdo it, since no one wants to be goggled at. Offer something interesting to say about yourself and try to find some common ground with everyone you meet.

Spray that again

"It may be tough in business, but at least the food is good."

This may have been a flippant comment from a colleague of mine, but it's certainly true and you simply cannot beat a good canapé.

In general, caterers advise allowing for half a dozen canapés per person.

How do they know? Is there an algorithm that takes into consideration multiple factors affecting the appetite of each attendee  the gourmand who sat a breakfast meeting on the morning of the event, bolting down Danish pastries; the goody-goody who opted for fruit; the one who thinks breakfast is for wimps; the one who had a three-course business lunch; the gym bunny who spends every lunchtime pumping iron; and the one who can never resist raiding the vending machine for an afternoon snack  and ultimately comes up with six?

Catering requires careful planning and, quantitative and dietary requirements aside, would event managers please heed what I believe to be the most important catering question: is it a "pop"or a "bite" canapé?

This is crucial – networking abilities hang precariously in the canape balance. Can I pop a canape delicately into my mouth in one go, or do I have to bite it? The latter will guarantee only one outcome: unsightly crumbling accompanied by likely drip page.

Also, experience leads me to caution against applying a pop technique to a bite-sized canape. Shoving in the larger type of morsel in one go will neither give you presence nor make you presentable, as even the smoothest of operators will lose their poise when masticating endlessly with bulging hamster-cheeks. Been there, chomped on that.

This charming man

I believe that people do business with people they like and that the goal of networking should be to leave the event having found the right contacts and made a connection with them.

The tricky part is identifying the right contacts, so we work the room  an art that definitely requires a lightness of touch. I say this because one former colleague would regularly and rather pompously tell me: "Oh, yeah. I worked that room so hard last night."

After a while, I started questioning whether "worked the room" was a euphemism. I am no gambler, but I will happily bet that his approach involved a quick glance at a lapel badge, a rapid detail assimilation followed by a lightning judgment ("use to me; move on").

I doubt that he made a great impression. I am often asked about the networking nightmares I have experienced.

The worst one has to be the man in the City who approached me, peering at the badge pinned to my right lapel at chest height. He read my name aloud before looking at my left breast and asking: "And what do you call the other one?"

The good news is that I no longer wonder what tumbleweed sounds like, because he utterly killed all conversation around him. I think we can safely say that we haven't done business together.

PROCESSING, PLEASE WAIT...