Walk into any business function or event where you’ll be expected to network and chances are you’ll get a chill down your spine – even if only for a second. Even the toughest socialisers among us have an instinctive smidgeon of fear when it comes to facing a room full of strangers, not always knowing the right thing to say or do.

But don’t let that deter you. Firstly, remember that everyone there is in the same boat – you’re all strangers, everyone with the same apprehension.

Secondly, follow these rules of business networking etiquette and know that you will be successful. It’s like baking a cake – just follow the recipe! Buy following these key social skills for business, everything will be all right.

Have realistic expectations

Don’t go to the event with the idea of meeting and mingling with everyone there. That’s not realistic and will never happen. Instead, focus on meeting a handful of people and building meaningful relationships with them. Don’t focus on quantity – it’s more important to build and maintain valuable relationships that might lead to more connections in future.

Eat beforehand

Never attend an event on an empty stomach. The last thing on your mind should be canapés. Think about it this way – what is more important: making sure you get the last mini quiche or focusing on connecting with a potential business lead? Would you rather be holding a plate of finger food or shaking the hand of a new acquaintance? Another good reason is that drinks are often served before the food, and although it’s advisable not to drink any alcohol at all, you might not always have the choice and should this happen, drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea.

Don’t cling to people you know

Chances are there might be one or two people you know, or friends of friends. While it’s easy to stick to the familiar and stay by their sides, don’t do this. The point of business networking is to make NEW connections and meet NEW people. It might feel safer and more fun to spend the evening talking to people you already know, you should instead get to know new people and network. And next time there’s a conference or event, there will be more familiar faces and fewer strangers – so say hello and then move on!

Listen, listen, listen

Remember arguably the most valuable conversational skill there is: active listening. Stay in the moment and truly listen to what people are saying to you. Pay attention to them and maintain eye contact as well as a positive listening body language. People can sense when you are paying attention elsewhere or just nodding while you think of what you’d like to say next. Don’t do this – listen to them and they will respond in kind. When you respond, focus on ways in which your business can complement each other.

Walking into a crowded room full of strangers need not be problem anymore. Keep a look out for Part 2 of this article on how to most effectively network at a business event.

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