Courtesy of You grab a name tag, enter the banquet hall, and BANG! You’re off, sink or swim, the networking event has begun. Not dissimilar to speed dating, there is a certain awkwardness and rush as you try to navigate the forming conversation circles and hopefully grab some free food.

Networking events can be stressful for even the social butterflies among us, but they don’t have to be!  Here are a few tips to break the ice and come away with valuable business connections.

Start with the obvious

Enter a small group, introduce yourself by name, and shake hands with the each person you meet. Then jump right in and ask the obvious questions.  Why are you here?  Have you attended similar networking events before?  What kind of a job are you in?  This is a simple, straight-forward strategy and a good place to start!

Use props

Whether it’s the food table or someone’s clothing, use items around you as conversation starters.  Something like, “Wow, check out that food spread. Where to start?” or a compliment on someone’s jacket can open the floor to further conversation.

Fake it 'till you make it

Try to keep track of the little things that will set you up for success!  Remember to stay hydrated, maintain positive body language (no arm-crossing or slouching), and keep eye contact with the person you’re speaking with.  And smile!  An inviting posture will set you up for more positive interactions.

Ask questions

The easiest way to keep a conversation going is to steer it in new directions with a follow-up question.  Keep small talk going with questions about sports or where the other person is from.

Plan an exit strategy

You don’t want to be suctioned to one person or conversation group for the whole networking event! Plan an exit strategy to make sure you circulate between different crowds.  Try introducing someone new to the conversation group to take your place or explain that you are off to check out the food.  Ask for business cards and say you hope to be in touch soon.

You don’t have to remember all these tips, but be confident!  You’ll warm up as the night goes along, just stay positive and inquisitive.

Adapted from Ariella Coombs's "18 Easy Conversation Starters for Networking Events."