Jenny Holt is a freelance writer, mother of two and contributor to my blog. She loves nothing more than getting away from it and taking her pet Labrador Bruce for long walks, something she can do a lot more now she’s left the corporate world behind.

Have you ever declined an invitation to attend a work-related event? Perhaps you felt it wouldn’t be a good use of your time, or it wasn’t convenient since it was after hours. Or maybe you thought you’d feel uncomfortable and wouldn’t fit it with the rest of the group. Whatever your reason, it may be time to take another look at networking and professional events.

Have an Icebreaker

Once you’ve secured your ticket to a professional event, you’re probably anxious about how well you’re going to network with others. When you walk into the room, quickly get the lay of the land. Look at where people are congregating (hint: it’s probably the bar) and make your way there. As you’re walking, think of an opening line you can use when you get there. When you get to the group, approach someone who is not already involved in a conversation and say something that’s lighthearted and relevant to what’s going on in the room.

If there’s a long line at the bar, you could say something like, “I sure hope they have some wine left by the time we get up there!” If there’s no line, and you can just walk right up, say, “Looks like we got here at the best time!” or words to that effect.

The other person will likely turn to you and either laugh or respond to you. At that point, you can extend your hand and give your name.  After the other person responds with their name and shakes your hand, you can ask some questions, like where they work and what their connection is to the event. Now you’re on your way.

Have a Pitch

Have a short speech you can give that tells people about yourself and what you do. This may be even shorter and more casual than the usual ‘elevator pitch’ since the person you’re talking to is free to leave. Be sure to ask about the other person as soon as you’ve finished answering any questions the other person has about you.

Keep Moving

Your goal at an event is to talk to as many people as you can, so you’ll need to keep moving. As soon as you’ve gathered some pertinent information from the person you’re talking to, there is likely to be a natural lag in the conversation. This is your cue to make a graceful exit and talk to someone else. Of course, if you’re seated at a dinner, this won’t be possible. In that case, talk to as many different people at the table as you can easily converse with.

Follow Up

Make sure you get a business card from everyone you talk to and follow up within a day or two. You want the person to remember your conversation. Send an email, or connect on LinkedIn. Your message should include a reminder of what you talked about.

Follow these few guidelines, and you’ll soon be working the room like a pro.