Do you avoid networking opportunities because you dread introducing yourself to someone new? You aren’t alone. Lots of people feel nervous at the thought of meeting new people. In this article, I’ll share some tips to help you face your fears and start networking like a pro.

Start with “Hello”

Let’s start with the basics. You’re at an event and you really want to meet some new people. What do you do? It really is as simple as saying “Hello.” Walk up to someone, smile, and introduce yourself. Remember to make eye contact and keep smiling. Your body language should convey that you are confident and enjoying yourself.

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Add the handshake (or not)

Most of the time, you’ll accompany your greeting with the offer of a handshake. You know the routine — arm in front of you, slightly bent at the elbow, firm grip, and so on. Watch for visual cues from the other person. Not everyone shakes hands. Be prepared to drop your arm gracefully if the other person doesn’t respond by extending theirs.

Joining a group

If everyone at the event seems to be in groups, try to find one that looks inviting to make your approach. Again, look at the body language of the group. Look for a pair of people who are turned slightly away from each other, as if they are surveying the crowd. If you see a group standing in a semi-circle, take advantage of the opening. Usually an “Excuse me, do you mind if I join you?” will receive the positive response you are looking for.

Making not so small talk

I think the real reason some people dislike networking is not the initial introduction but the small talk that comes after that exchange. If you open the conversation by introducing yourself, you’ll encourage the other person to tell you his or her name, but it really doesn’t take the conversation anywhere. You can do better.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal featured an interview with author Vanessa Van Edwards who outlined several tips for taking your conversation beyond the boring. She advises asking open-ended questions that give the person you’re speaking with the opportunity to share what inspires them. Instead of saying “What a great conference,” try “What made you decide to come to this conference out of all the ones to choose from?” And, as I always say, be an active listener!

What if they don’t like me?

Keith Farrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, reminds us that making conversation is a skill that can be learned. In fact, it’s something I help people learn. And, like me, Farrazzi recommends that you be open and authentic when meeting new people. I agree: It is your willingness to share your unique personality that will draw people to you.

Instead of fearing that you’ll be rejected for being yourself, consider it a screening tool. If your goal is to meet people that you’ll want to work with or for in the future, you will be much better off finding people who “get” and like you.

Still feeling nervous?

If you still aren’t ready to make your approach then start working to eliminate your concerns. Identify your specific fears and concerns and work through them one by one. Think about the worst thing that could happen and how you would handle it. Thinking things through can help you come up with solutions to your concerns and overcome your anxieties.

Another way alleviate your nervousness is to enlist help. Ask one of your friends to introduce you to some of the people they know at an event or meeting. Or get to know the members of a local group or organization online before attending an in-person meeting. You’re welcome to connect with me and come to one of my local events here in Boston.

Just Say “Hello”

Meeting people and forming real connections will enhance your life both personally and professionally. But it takes that first step. Practice your lines, think through the scenarios, and make an actionable plan to get out there and start networking. Have no fear; it’s just networking, not the zombie apocalypse. The people you meet may be interested in your brains — but they won’t bite.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! Learn even more about networking, effective communication skills, storytelling and public speaking at theBostonSpeaks Blogor watch one of our weekly BostonSpeaksTalks.

Kit Pang is a Communication Expert, TEDx Speaker Coach, TEDx, Inbound and Keynote speaker, the host of the BostonSpeaksSeries, BostonSpeaksTalks and the founder of BostonSpeaks. He is on a mission to help individuals become exceptional speakers and communicators. Kit’s seminars and talks have been credited as super fun, engaging, soul-searching and insightful. | @KitPangx, @Boston_Speaks

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