The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Have you ever been at a networking event when, in the middle of telling your best joke, you are interrupted by a stranger pushing their business card into your chest? That forceful image may be an exaggeration, but it isn’t too far from reality. It’s a good thing though because, although your punchline may have been spoiled, there is something much better to be had: a new connection. This is what makes networking a key part of what we do at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ).

At a recent orientation for the ACCJ’s Chubu chapter, a group of new members and committee leaders were asked which of the ACCJ’s three pillars—networking, information, or advocacy—was the deter­min­ing factor in their decision to join. The vast majority said they joined to expand their network.

Later, they were asked about the biggest challenge to growing their companies. Again, most answered networking. It is this building of connections that is, for many professionals, simultaneously the best and most challenging way to find new business.

There are a number of reasons why people feel intimidated when they walk into a room full of strangers, or stress about starting and maintaining multiple conversations at an event. Many attendees will likely be from different regions, speak different languages, or work in different industries. There are also unofficial rules of social etiquette that must be understood and followed.

There are a number of bad habits and poor networking behavior that are best avoided. You don’t want to be labeled as one of these types:

The Business Card Snowplower
Aim­lessly pushing through the crowds, this networker moves with their business card held out at a 115-degree angle.

The Sales Force Terminator
Obviously hunting for a buyer, this person guides all conversations directly to a purchase proposition, then abruptly moves to the next target. But don’t worry, he won’t be back.

Here are some ways to put your best foot forward:

Be yourself
You won’t get very far by being disin­gen­uous. Ask yourself, “What makes me interesting?” Play to your strengths.

Be an active listener
The best way to learn exactly what some­one is interesting in or needs is to listen. I mean really listen. Small talk can lead to big success if you pay attention.

Ask the right questions
Ever feel the person with whom you are talking is just passing time until the person he or she really wants to meet (probably the one telling a joke to a group behind you) is available? When neither party asks anything interesting, the result is a bland conversation. Ask questions that tell you more about the person or their business to find a common deno­minator that allows a deeper conver­sation to naturally develop.

Step out of your comfort zone
If you attend an event with friends or colleagues, you’ll fare better if you don’t huddle together in the back of the room. It’s almost certain that you won’t meet anyone new if you spend all your time with people you know.

Ask for help
One of the main roles of the ACCJ Member­ship Relations Committee (MRC) is to help you obtain more value from your membership. Contact your MRC leaders and let them know your interests and network­ing goals. They may be able to directly introduce you to a fellow member or inform you of an upcoming event that could be beneficial for your business.

The ACCJ New Year’s Party is a great place to try out your new networking skills. The Chubu event will take place on January 17 at Hilton Nagoya . The ACCJ-Chubu MRC will also host a net­working workshop this spring to provide a forum in which you can discuss networking challenges, get best practice advice from experts, and—well—network!

Get more details about ACCJ events at

Mario Long is chair of the ACCJ-Chubu Membership Relations Committee