IceIt’s a classic scenario: you arrive at a networking event armed with business cards and ready to make connections. But once you get there, you can’t seem to pull yourself away from the wall and mingle with everyone who acts more confident than you feel.

The truth is, you’re not the only person who’s nervous about talking to strangers. Many entrepreneurs feel awkward at their first networking event, even if they don’t show it. The key is displaying confidence. Use the old “fake it ‘til you make it” adage, and you’ll soon be rubbing elbows with other business owners.

1. Get to Know People Before the Event

It’s much easier to network if you have one or two points of contact at the event. Connect with the event planner, who will do her best to make you feel at ease, and consider linking to a few participants through social media and starting conversation before the event. This way, you can make a point of introducing yourself to them, paving the way to meeting other participants.

 2. Prepare Your Elevator Speech

If you’ve ever been flummoxed when someone asked you what you do for a living, you know it can make for an awkward situation. Develop a succinct elevator speech that explains your business and your role in a few sentences. Keep it high level; that gives your new contacts the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about what you do. Practice it until you feel confident delivering your elevator speech.

3. Realize You’re Not Alone

As I said, you’re far from the only person feeling apprehensive. But as a business owner, you know you get better results when you talk to people, not act like a shy wallflower. Overcome those networking jitters, realize you’ve got a lot in common with this crowd, and confidently walk over to the nearest person and introduce yourself.

4. Survey the Scene

When you first arrive, consider serving yourself food or drink so you have time to look around and plan your strategy. If you see someone else sitting alone, this is the perfect situation to perhaps connect with a fellow networker who feels as timid as you do.

 5. Ask Questions

Most people love talking about themselves and their businesses, so you’ll quickly help people warm up to you if you take an interest in them. And if they’re good networkers, they’ll return the gesture with questions of their own.

6. Arm Yourself with Ice-Breaking Conversation Starters

While we laugh when people say “How ‘bout those Knicks?” but there’s something to be said about neutral-topic conversation starters like sports and the weather. Just avoid any topics that might be polarizing, like politics.

 7. Have a Purpose

Why are you attending this event? If you keep your goal in mind, the networking will be easier. For example, if you’re looking to build relationships with potential suppliers, you can work the room, looking for people who fit your needs. You can also ask others if they can refer you to someone. This way,  you don’t spend a lot of time talking to the wrong people.

 8. Make Eye Contact

Your body language, as well as whether you look people in the eye or not, speaks volumes about how comfortable — or not — you are at a networking event. Again, even if you’re not feeling at ease, you want to give the impression that you are. Make an effort to look people in the eye when speaking and listening.

 9. Offer to Help

Having a role at a networking event might put you more at ease. Volunteer to sign people in or serve food. That way, you have a reason to talk to just about everyone, and you’ll keep your hands busy.

 10. Create Value

Because networking is about building relationships, your focus should be on how you can help others, not how they can help you. If someone is looking for a great babysitter, refer your own sitter. If you can make a business connection, do so. People will remember you for your helpfulness at an event if you strive to be useful.