When you're trying to network, you want to make your effort count. Doing a little intelligence gathering, and then using that intelligence properly, can help you make a lasting impression with the people you actually want to connect with.
Photo by Ludovic Bertron
If you'll be at the same conference or event as a specific someone you know you want to connect with, it's to your benefit to get to know them a little beforehand. Investigate where they work, what they do, check out their social feeds, and see what really matters to them. Once you've put together a mental dossier, Hal Humphreys at Fast Company explains how to use the information:
My grandfather used to say, "Shoot one quail at a time." At networking events, don't hand out 100 business cards, only to go back to your office and send out 100 form emails. You are a spy. You're smarter than that.
Instead, network like a spy: Use that intelligence you've gathered to figure out how to fit into that person's tribe. Don't push it — first contact should feel natural and easy. Talk about things that interest you both. Don't go overboard on this, but you can even dress the part a bit. In highlighting your commonalities, as Seth Godin puts it, you're sending the message: "People like us do stuff like this." In other words, "We 'get' each other." That will keep your business card from landing in the generic stack.
The key is that you want to stand out without looking like a copycat yes-man. This is all so you can get your foot in the door. Once you're in good contact with someone, everything else you want to accomplish can be much easier to take on. Pick who the asset is, gather intel on them, and insert yourself into their culture. This is your mission should you choose to accept it.
5 Networking Secrets from a Professional Spy [Fast Company]