Do your homework and develop a plan
Use the Internet and your existing network to identify interesting events to attend. Then try to figure out who is attending. Printed and online programs will list speakers and panelists. Some organizations’ websites will also provide an attendees list. Use these resources to Google the names of those individuals that might be of interest to you.
The Internet can help you learn a lot about people and their backgrounds. Key information to research includes: where they work(ed), what schools they attended, if they have been quoted in a recent news article, and any commonalities. A great resource is an individual’s LinkedIn profile, if they have one. Information like this will help you to identify the people with whom you want to speak at the event.
Once you have determined who you want to speak with, rank them in order of importance to you. How you rank them will depend on your goal. You may not have a lot of networking time, so knowing your priorities ahead of time will help ensure that you meet those individuals most important to you.
Execute your mission
When you are at the event, use your ranked list of individuals to start introducing yourself to the people you want to get to know. Volunteering at the check-in desk in the morning is a great way to match a name to a face so you can efficiently spot them later on.
A simple introduction by sharing with the person your name, where you work, and your background will prompt the other person to respond in kind. Already knowing this information will allow you to seamlessly ask a follow-up question and steer the discussion in the direction you want. The key is to direct the conversation in such a way that highlights a commonality.
Commonalities, particularly unusual commonalities, help to create an emotional connection, which will make that person want to speak with you. Unusual commonalities are things that only a few people share with each other and can include, for example, that you both attended a Friends School or have traveled to Easter Island.
When talking with the person, remember to be professional. Do not force an introduction or include in the conversation information about them that is not readily available. Do not summarize their career for them. You will creep them out! The information you retrieved from your research is to help steer your discussion in such a way that will elicit an emotion connection and prepare you ahead of time for how you might respond to the information shared with you.
Follow-up your conversation
Make sure to follow-up your conversation with a timely note highlighting parts of your discussion and expressing both your interest in staying in-touch and your willingness to be of help. So make sure to ask for their business card! And, if possible, send them an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. This provides a great way to stay in-touch and give them a nice snapshot of your background. The sooner you follow-up, the less likely it is that the person will forget you.
Do not hesitate to work the room and connect with the people that interest you. Just be sure to do your research to help you find a way to emotionally connect with that person.