Were you born a great communicator?  If you weren’t, fear not. Many of us have to practice in order to hone our communication and relationship building skills.  Advancing in a career depends a great deal on how good you are at what you do, and whom you know.  Certainly, feeling comfortable meeting and networking with people is a huge asset in your professional growth.  Below are 7 tips on how to network effectively at business functions:

Act As if You Belong

Everyone feels a bit uncomfortable at these events.  But, we are all there for the same reason, to meet each other.  So act as if you belong because you do.  This mental mindset will provide you with the confidence you need to make the most out of the event and accomplish the goals you have set forth for yourself. 

Have an Agenda

Do your homework before each networking event.  Who will be there? Whom do you need to meet?  What do you want to accomplish?  Sometimes a well thought out plan for the evening can mean meeting two key people and sometimes it can mean working the room and letting your presence be known to a large number of attendees.  

Introduce Yourself

Don’t be shy; it’s your duty to introduce yourself to people.  A good business introduction is as easy as, “Hello my name is Jane Smith, I am with XYZ firm.”  Don’t go to an event assuming people will approach you and introduce themselves and make it easy for you to have a conversation together.  Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up.”  If that is true, than the other 20% is a lot of pressure on you to make sure your presence is known, so take the initiative and approach an individual or group of people and introduce yourself.

Be Well Informed

Come to a networking event informed on current events and breaking news of the day.  Have some interesting topics ready as an icebreaker or conversation starter. This will put you and everyone else around you at ease.

Ask Interesting Questions

Small talk can be challenging, but here’s a secret…people love to talk about themselves so let them!  Ask good questions and get the other person talking about herself.  When you allow someone to talk about themselves you learn a good amount about them and they will leave the conversation thinking that you both are wonderful.

Actively Listen

Are you a good listener?  This skill is another tough but good one!  Instead of having your mind wander after you ask a person a question or eyeing the door for someone more interesting to walk in, actively listen to the person you are speaking with at that moment.  It takes a special person to make someone feel as if they are the only person in the room at that moment.  Perfecting this skill makes the person you are speaking to feel valued and will leave them with a positive impression of you.

Follow Up

Equally important as attending the event is the post-event follow up.  After you meet a key person and have a good discussion with him, follow up.  Perhaps you spoke about getting together for lunch to finish your discussion.  Contact the person the next day and get a date on the calendar.  Even if you do not have an actionable next step, it is always a good idea to send an email stating that it was a pleasure meeting the person.  You never know what kind of business opportunity may arise by continuing a rapport with the people you meet.