How many of us have walked into a room full of people and wanted to turn around and leave? When I think about networking events, my heart freezes. Didn’t our mothers teach us not to speak to strangers? Yet, in this article we're going to examine how to talk to strangers.
First thing you need to know is we all hate going to networking events. Why? It’s hard to thrust yourself on someone else, no matter how “outgoing” you may be. Knowing that we are all miserable makes these things a tiny bit easier.
Second, your job at a networking event is to meet people. Your job is to learn as much as you can about as many people as you can. Your job is not to sell yourself. You can sell yourself in the process, but that is secondary and must be done with caution.

The great Dale Carnegie said: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

What Dale Carnegie meant is that whether you are attending a networking event or your family reunion picnic, the rules are the same. Listen to the other person. Question the other person. Learn about the other person. When you do these things, suddenly, you will discover that you have a new friend, a potential associate or a possible client.

How do you start? Let's go back to that evening when you walked into the room full of people and looked around. This is what you saw.
•Two people talking. Their heads bowed slightly toward one another as if to hear above the crowd.
•A group of people laughing and talking casually by the food. Another group talking casually by the bar.
•One person standing by the door, alone.

Which one of these three "groups" do you approach? If you answered the one person standing alone, you win the gold star. If you answered the group of people laughing and talking near the bar or food, you win the silver star. If you answered the two people talking with their heads bowed, you get the booby prize.
The main reason you go up to the person who is alone is that is a person who is looking for someone to talk to. They, like you, are feeling out of place. That person wants to talk to you. That person will be forever grateful that you approached them.

When to Hold 'Em.

•As soon as you walk into the room and spot a person, go introduce yourself. You do not need to wait for someone to introduce you.

•Once you've introduced yourself begin questioning the person. Ask what they do. Give them a chance to tell you all about their business. Ask what brought them to this event. Search for things you have in common.

•Do not ask personal questions, such as, are you married, do you have children.

•If someone walks up, introduce yourself and your new friend. Tell the new person a little about the two of you and what you were talking about. Bring that new person into the conversation.

•As you begin to draw the conversation to a close, if the other person has not asked for your card, ask for theirs. That may stimulate them to ask for yours. Do not give someone your card unless they have asked for it.

When to Fold 'Em.
•After no more than 10 minutes and preferably 5 minutes leave the conversation.

•If you notice the person you're talking to saying less or their eyes darting around the room, excuse yourself gracefully, even if you have not been talking 5 minutes.

•Do not leave the person standing alone. Instead, offer to take them with you to join another group.

•Thank the person for giving you their card and for talking with you.

If you approach someone, who clearly does not want to talk to you, then gracefully thank them for their time and move on. Do not waste your time with people who are truly uninterested. You can note their interest level by the way they respond to you, namely, they answer your open questions with one word responses. Their eyes dart around the room, looking for someone "better" to talk to. They do not look at you while they talk. They do not ask you any questions.

Networking, like everything else we do, takes practice. Try these tips and see if it’s a bit easier for you the next time you enter that proverbial crowded room.
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Author's Bio: 

Joan Curtis is the CEO for Total Communications Coach. She has done leadership training and consulting for over 20 years. Her new book, Managing Sticky Situations at Work http://www.managingstickysituationsatwork, came out in June 2009. In it she creates a new model of communication called the Say It Just Right Model. Check out her website at