A lot of young professionals, myself included, really dislike networking. I think the reason many of us dislike it is because we believe that networking is synonymous with manipulation and scheming.
I just read a magazine article in The Writer by Susan Johnston called “Tips for No-Pain Networking.” The most important point that she made is that networking is about mutual gain. If, while at a conference, you’re cruising the crowd for someone who can advance your career, you’re bound to feel awkward and gross.
Rather than focusing on your own goals when meeting new people, look for ways in which you can help them. Point the way to the bathroom, or offer a bit of gentle feedback on a presentation (“I thought the most interesting thing you said was . . .”). Offer to e-mail someone the name of a book that might be relevant to her project.
Sure, you may secretly hope that your good deeds will be noticed and reciprocated. But you aren’t breaking any networking rules if your interest in other people is genuine.