Whether you’re a consultant or an employee looking for a new job, networking is a key skill. And even if you’re extroverted networking can be, well, work. As a colleague, Péllo Walker, president of Daily Digital Imaging, says, “It’s called networking for a reason. It’s not net-drinking. It’s not net-chatting. It’s networking.”

If you’re not someone who finds it easy to just chat up a stranger, here are three little things you can do to set yourself up for successful networking before the event:

  1. Prepare ahead of time with some topics you can use as icebreakers. News headlines–as long as they don’t involve politics or religion–are always good. Read up on the speaker, panel or topic. Be careful about sports: not everyone follows professional sports and a fanatic can turn off someone who is not as interested. “How about the Giants?” is fine. “Did you see Romo take out the third batter for the walk-off the other day?” is not.
  2. Practice open ended questions. These are questions that require at least a sentence or two to answer. The advantage of using them is that the answer will give you clues about the person you’re talking to and will help you carry on a real conversation.
  3. Rest up before the event and allow plenty of time for traffic if you’re driving. You’re not going to be at your scintillating best when you’re tired. Even if you love talking to people, being “on” for a couple of hours can be tiring. Add to that a long drive in heavy traffic, and you probably won’t be fresh and bright-eyed.

Now that you’re at a networking event, what do you do? My next post will cover how to introduce yourself to total strangers–and feel comfortable doing it.