There are lots of us who find the idea of walking into a room of strangers and ‘mingling’, a truly scary thought. Many small business owners know that attending networking events is an ideal way to meet potential customers in their local area, but some find that the daunting prospect of having to make conversation with people they don’t know is enough to prevent them from making attending business networking a regular event in their calendar. Come on guys, it doesn’t need to be that bad. Even if making small talk with strangers really isn’t your thing, if you start having a go you will soon get used to it and will even come to like it – I am sure! I have written 50 tips for networking success – and below are 5 more in the series, that focus on how to make it easier to mix with strangers.

1. Find out who is attending from the organisers  – it helps you pinpoint who you would like to meet.

This is a natural part of the planning you should do before attending any business event. Be clear beforehand what you hope to achieve from attending. Getting hold of the list of attendees, or even having an informal chat with the organisers beforehand to ask if they can tell you who has already signed up, will help you plan who you would like to talk to. If you go with that in your mind, you are more likely to leave the event having shaken that person’s hand and had a short conversation.

2. If you can’t find the person you are hoping to meet, ask the organisers to help you locate them.

If you have gone to the trouble of finding out who is attending and devising a plan to meet someone in particular, you might need some help in actually executing the plan particularly at a large event where it could be hard to see exactly who is there. Generally I find people very helpful at business events, so if you ask for some help in locating a particular person, being as this is a networking event it is very likely that you will receive all the help you need in locating them. You could also ask the organisers to let your target know that you want to meet them, thus nurturing their interest before you’ve even tried to speak to them!

3. Say ‘hi  – can I join you?’ if you are standing on your own and want to join a group.

Worst case scenario – you’ve booked to attend the networking event at the last minute and you’ve got no idea who might be attending. You arrive and the event is already in full swing – you can hear the buzz of business people chatting as you walk up to the venue.  At this point you might consider turning round and going home rather than put yourself through the torture of having to break into established cliques and tightly formed groups of strangers chattering. You take a deep breath and enter the room. Everyone else seems to know someone. Now is the time to do your reccy.  The only thing to do is to look for a group that have a gap that you can squeeze into and say ‘Hi, please can I join you? This is my first time at this event & I would like to meet some new people’. No-one is going to decline – this is a networking event. If you succeed in doing this – then you are 300% braver than most first time networkers who didn’t even make it through the door! And you are looking polished and self-assured. People will like you for this!

4. Alternatively look for someone else who is alone and go an introduce yourself

Ok – breaking into the already formed group is a big ask. Your cop out is that if someone else in the room is standing on their own and looking as awkward as you feel, you can go and make their day a lot easier, by pairing up with them, introducing yourself and then asking them to tell you all about them. Nice work – you broke the ice, now you’ve got them talking!

5. Then go together to join a new group – safety in numbers!

Now you don’t want to be stuck together as a pair for the entire event. You both came here to meet new people and to make business connections. Rather than leave this person standing alone whilst you disappear to meet some more interesting people, why not go together to a new group (one with a suitably sized gap in its ranks), and do what I suggest in step 3.

In my next blog I will give 5 more tips for making sure your networking runs smoothly, including how to move on from someone who is clinging on to you, and how to work out what to say to complete strangers.