Set a Target
Set yourself a realistic target of how many people you will get to know at a networking event. Start off with a small target then gradually increase as you become more comfortable. Achieving even a part of your target will give you a sense of accomplishment and helps to avoid the feeling of failure if you don’t walk away with a fist full of business cards.
Be Comfortable With Yourself
As you begin to strike up a conversation, just focus on being yourself. You will feel more at ease and it will come across when speaking with others. People tend to spot people who are insincere pretty quickly.
Look for the “Odd One Out”
Groups, where there are odd numbers, will likely have at least one person who is not actively involved in the conversation. Target the person who is not involved in the conversation and then suddenly you are approaching just one person and not several. This reduces the intimidation factor and eliminates that awkward “double-dutch” feeling when you are waiting for an opportunity to jump into the conversation.
Start With a Meaningful Icebreaker
Now that you have picked the person you are going to speak to, what do you say? Try and avoid small talk like the weather, traffic and parking. Try and lead with something meaningful and relevant to the session you are attending. You can try:
“I’ve been looking forward to hearing this speaker. Have you heard any of his/her presentations?”
Meaningful icebreakers will lead to more meaningful conversations.
Walking Away From a Conversation
Another networking fear is how to walk away from a conversation that isn’t going well or where you are simply not hitting it off with someone. You are going to encounter these situations so be prepared. You don’t want an exit strategy that is clumsy and uncomfortable. The following simple phrase can get you out of those situations:
“There are a few more people I am hoping connect with. It’s been great talking with you”
If You Don’t Know, Say You Don’t Know
If you are asked about a topic or join in a conversation that you don’t know well or fully understand, don’t pretend you do. It is tempting is to pretend you know and to try and bluff your way through, but all this does it make you feel uncomfortable and can end up making you look foolish. You can say:
“It is not a topic I’m well acquainted with but I am interested to know more about…”