It’s no secret that attending networking events is essential to every business person’s success. In order to spread the word about yourself or your business, you need to get out and meet people – and a networking event is the best platform to accomplish this. Meeting people and personally telling them about what you do, and how you can help others with your products or expertise is the best brand representation you can employ.

Yet, when you ask most people how much they like networking events, they’ll tell you they’d rather do most anything than make small talk with a room full of strangers.

It doesn’t take extreme introversion to dislike networking events — even for an extrovert they can be hard work. Although endless chitchat can be easy for some people, most of us find it tedious after awhile, especially when there’s work attached to it. And even for those who readily get started, it’s not fun to try to keep a conversation going with someone who’s hard to connect with, as we stretch to fill awkward silences.

Here are some tips to make a networking conversation start and flow with less effort.

Avoid lingering with friends and established contacts

Whenyou arrive at a networking event, avoid gravitating to people you know. The whole purpose of going to these events is to meet new people and find prospects – and sticking with old ones kind of defeats your main purpose. You should initially thank the host and then immediately find someone new to introduce yourself to. This will help keep you in the right frame of mind as to why you came.

The only acceptable reason for sticking close to your friends/acquaintances is when they introduce or refer you to someone they know whom they know you will be able to help with your products and services.

Three, two, one – who must you gravitate to?

Not sure who to approach? Follow these general rules:

  • Three or more? Approach with care. – Never try to barge into a group of four or more people. Come along side of the group, but do not attempt to enter into the discussion until you’ve made eye contact with everyone and a minimum of two other people in the group have said something.
  • Two? Avoid. –  Do not approach two people who are talking, as you may be interrupting an important discussion.
  • One – The ideal. – Initiate conversation with someone who is standing by themselves. They’ll be happy to have someone to talk to them and, as a result, will many times open up with valuable information.

Start by asking for advice

Asking for advice can be both a conversation starter, and a useful way to get helpful information. If the person you’re talking to has attended the event before, ask what they thought was helpful about it, or what other events they attend. Or you can ask them for unrelated advice on common interests like a restaurant or movie suggestion. These kinds of questions can get the conversation flowing naturally and illuminate common interests. As an additional plus, it feels good to have your opinion requested.

One last tip – be confident.

The most confident person in the room holds the most influence. If you go to a network event and you’re not sure what to do, you’re not confident, you’re feeling super awkward and you ultimately spend the whole night just standing next to that tree, people will notice. Own the fact that you’re there. You have just as much a right as anyone else to be there. You are interesting. People do want to talk to you. And there’s nothing awkward about this.