“So ... what do you do?”

Networking can be awkward. After a networking hiatus, that’s potentially even more so. But, on the flip side, we know networking is important. Professional connections help you expand your reach, grow your career and develop a pool of trusted insights.

Here are some tips to make it a little less squirmy:

Avoid traditional networking events.

At a traditional networking event, almost everyone has some type of agenda. It makes for superficial interactions and an overall awkward dynamic. Instead, try to find something with a more focused audience. This could be something like an industry event, an interactive webinar for folks in your role or something specific to your geographic area.

Not only will you have more interesting conversations at the event, odds are that you’ll make stronger connections that actually last. When everyone is there to learn and share experiences, networking will come naturally.

Make it about the other person.

If you introduce yourself to someone and they say, “I’m a rep for ...,” or “I’m a teacher,” or whatever answer they give you while describing what they do for a living, think to yourself, “Who is this person affecting? Is it customers, is it students, is it other people? Are they a product developer? Or do they do something related to the environment?”

Then, when you respond, you can say something like, “Wow, I bet you have a big impact on ...” whoever their constituents are.

A lot of us need reminders that our work makes a difference, and if you can bring that forth in that first few minutes of the conversation, that person will go to a better headspace to engage with you.

Use “you know how when” to describe yourself.

When someone asks, “What do YOU do?” instead of just going wah-wah-wah with the usual, I want to teach you a networking technique called “You know how when.”

I learned this technique from Mark Levy, who’s a positioning expert. Here’s how it works:

If someone were to ask me, “Lisa, what do you do for a living?” I could say, “I’m a consultant and I’m an author.” And they’d probably politely nod.

But instead, I say this: “You know how when someone really takes pride in their work, and their whole face lights up? I help companies make sure everyone who works for them feels like that.”

This casual “you know how when” language is often a welcome reprieve from the overwhelming volume of corporate speak at traditional networking events. Having your own version of the “you know how when” in your back pocket makes you more interesting and approachable.

Follow up with focus.

Effective networking does not leave a bread crumb trail of hundreds of 1-off interactions. To actually build a network, you’ll need to go deeper. That means following up. If you made a connection at a networking event that you’d like to stay in touch with, time is of the essence. Remember, everyone probably met a lot of people.

Quickly send a LinkedIn connection request or an email if you’d like to stay in touch. In the body of your message, include something memorable, like, “I really enjoyed hearing about the impact you have on your (constituents)!” Again, your aim here is to form a deep relationship based on impact, not a surface level acquaintance.

Networking doesn’t mean you have to brace yourself for endless conversations about the weather. When done well, networking can be a tool to build your personal brand and grow your career. And with the couple of tips above, it might even be fun!

– Lisa Earle McLeod is a leadership consultant and the author of several books. For more information on her company, visit McLeodandMore.com.