Making your first approach is often the part of networking that people find most nervewracking. It can help to practice introducing yourself with a friend. “Hi, I’m [name], [position] at [company]!” and a firm (but not crushing) handshake is a good start.
On the day, a few deep breaths while you remind yourself of your opening can work wonders. If you garble or misspeak, take the opportunity to laugh at yourself. Laughter is infectious, so it becomes an instant icebreaker.
Once you’ve secured an opening, it’s time to deploy your research. Tell them that you’ve heard about a specific achievement and ask them a question about it. People like talking about themselves, so this is a good opening gambit.
Listen to what they say, and use this to build a short conversation. If you get stuck, nodding and saying “yes, of course” can prompt them to elaborate on a point, as well as making them associate you with positivity.
When it’s time to move on, tell them that you’ve enjoyed speaking to them, and offer them your business card. They’ll most likely offer you theirs in return. Have a safe place to keep them, as it’s all too easy for business cards to be thrown out with the other detritus that accumulates at the bottom of bags. Also, carelessly stuffing someone’s card into your bag suggests that you don’t value their time; not the impression you want to give.
That’s how to get started networking! Don’t forget to follow up any promising interactions with an email after the conference, when they can give you a fuller and more considered response.