HUFFINGTON POST
12/22/2014 07:00 am ET Updated Feb 26, 2015

21 Ways to Overcome Networking Awkwardness

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For many people, the thought of going to a networking event is akin to getting a tooth pulled. They know they have to do it, but the prospect of standing around in a room full of strangers, feeling awkward and making small talk, is a nightmare.

Of course the problem is that networking is a major part of growing a business. You need to meet new people, expand your contacts, and be actively prepared to go and chase business.

For those who struggle, or perhaps simply want to get better, at networking, here are 21 tips that have helped me not only get better at it but also enjoy it.

1. Do your homework

Find out who is going to be at an event and make sure they are the kind of people that could be prospective customers for you. Network with intent.

2. Don't arrive too early

I don't like to get there too early, when there are only a few people standing around. It is a little awkward, and the conversation is always distracted as new people arrive.

3. Don't judge a book by its cover

Keep an open mind when it comes to meeting people. Don't fall into the habit of assuming anything about anyone simply on the basis of his or her look.

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4. You are not going to an execution, so remember to smile

Often people at networking events forget to smile (they are generally the people who don't like networking). Remember to smile often and smile sincerely.

5. Read today's newspaper

I always take some time to read the local newspaper before an event to find five or six current topics I can bring into a conversation. Asking people their opinion is a great way to get the conversation flowing.

6. Don't just hang out with people you know

This is the single biggest mistake: We find someone we know and we clutch onto the person for the entire event. Move around the room, introduce yourself, and meet new people. Sure, it is a little challenging, but the more you do it the easier it becomes.

7. Learn to ask open-ended questions

Ask better questions and you get better answers--avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or a no.

8. Drinking does not make you more networkable

I hate to break the bad news, but hitting the sauce at a networking event is really not cool. We all know the people that do, and they are the ones eroding their credibility with every drink. Sure, a drink or two is part of networking, but slamming back tequila shots at the bar is not ideal.

9. Take plenty of business cards and don't be stingy

I'm amazed at how many people go to a networking event without business cards. Take plenty and dish them out. I have two versions--one with my mobile number on it and one without. I don't necessarily want everyone to have my direct contact number.

10. Always have a pen

I write down notes on the back of business cards after I meet a person. I don't do it in front of the person--that's a little rude--but afterward: what action to take, what potential there is to do business, etc.

11. Wear something distinctive

This helps people remember you--and it makes you stand out from the crowd.

12. Hang out near the food

People are always much more relaxed near the food, sharing guilty treats and laughing while they do it. This is the perfect place to meet people (and carrying extra napkins can make you very popular).

13. Look for groups of people rather than individuals

It can be easier to sidle up to a group that is in a discussion than it can be to approach an individual. Approach a group and someone will hold out a hand to introduce himself.

14. Enlist the aid of others to introduce you

If you want to meet someone in particular, find a friend who knows the person and ask your friend to do a personal introduction.

15. Offer a compliment and be sincere when you do it

We all like someone to say something nice to us--but make it genuine. It might be something someone is wearing, something you may have heard about the person, her business, or even her industry.

16. Focus on the person in front of you

One of my biggest pet peeves is a conversation in which the person you are talking to keeps looking at everyone else (or his phone)--totally distracted from what you are saying. Don't be that person. If the person in front of you is not your target market, politely excuse yourself.

17. Go with a specific outcome in mind

Set a specific objective for the networking event--for example, "I'm going to meet five prospective new clients tonight."

18. Use the other person's name in conversation to help you remember him

When you first meet someone, use his name straight away and keep using it in the conversation.

19. Be enthusiastic about your business when asked

When people ask you what you do, be excited and passionate about it. It you aren't, don't expect anyone else to be.

20. Thank the hosts of the event on your way out

Always find who is in charge of the event and make a point of personally thanking her before you leave.

21. Fast follow-up gets the best results

The best networkers are the people who actually work at networking. By this I mean they meet people, they take notes, they follow up the next day, they build relationships--they get the business.

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