A few individuals seem completely comfortable in their skin. When it comes to business development, this translates to being at ease in any room — virtual or literal — able to network, initiate conversations and connect the dots.

Last night, in the bustle of Little Italy in New York City, my family and I stepped into a sidewalk cafe to have dinner with Twilla — a long time and dear friend. During the next two-and-a-half hours, Twilla initiated conversations — not hi-how-are-you greetings, but meaningful conversations — first with the host, and then with a couple with a 6-month-old seated at the table next to us.

The couple was from northern California. He works with a farming consortium; she is VP of Marketing for a bank. Before we’d finished our pasta Twilla had shared a few patented NYC tips, her personal contact information and an offer to baby sit.

On the way out of the cafe, she struck up a conversation with a New York City fireman. So engaged was he that he put his truck in “Park,” let traffic pass him by, and enjoyed 5-minutes that, I’m guessing, was one of the best conversations he had all day.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this irritates the fire out of me. Not Twilla, of course. Not the conversations — I love them. It is the fact that some seem so at ease, able to effectively network with anyone, anywhere. Most people aren’t so adept at this. At least this is what I tell myself.

Effective Business Development Networking Instigates Conversations

Twilla doesn’t need them; but for the rest of us, here are 5 Ideas that will help with our professional networking.

1) Don’t be so smart. Networking is not about you. It is about those with whom you wish to connect. Worry less about what you’ll say about you/your firm/your product or service, and more about demonstrating interest in what others will say, given the chance.

2) Be prepared to dance. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to show-off subject matter expertise, insight and brilliance. Resist. These tend to shorten conversations. Dance around the temptation. Job one is to begin an on-going conversation — one that lasts long after an event.

3) Avoid labels. Titles and job descriptions are forms of conversation shorthand that almost always conjures preconceived notions that are far too narrow. (What does “Lawyer” tell you?). Labels limit conversations.

4) Choose targets wisely. There are those who desire dialogue, and those that want to hold court. While it is easy to drift toward the crowd gathered around one on stage, the individuals scattered around the edge of the room — alone or in pairs — may pose the best conversation-rich opportunities.

5) Build around Questions, not Talking Points. The questions will depend on the situation, but here are two suggestions:

a) What brings you to this event?
b) What do you expect / hope to gain from being here?

If you’re like my friend, Twilla, a conversation that revolves around others is intuitive and easy.

As for the rest of us — perhaps, starting with the 5 ideas above, we can compile a practical list that helps with this networking challenge. What will you add to our list?