Some seem completely comfortable in their own skin in almost any situation. When it comes to business development, this translates to being at ease in any room — able to initiate conversations at the drop of a cocktail napkin. But for everyone who begins to sweat at the idea of the next networking room or the holiday events just around the corner, here are five ideas that might help you tame the trauma.

1) Don’t be so smart. Effective networking is not about you. It is about those with whom you wish to connect. Worry less about what you’ll say about you/your firm/your product or service, and more about demonstrating interest in what others will say, given the chance.

2) Be prepared to dance. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to show-off subject matter expertise, insight and brilliance. Resist. These tend to shorten conversations. Dance around the temptation. Viewing any single event as your only opportunity to pitch is not the road to effective business development. Job one is to begin an on-going conversation — one that lasts long after an event.

3) Avoid labels. Titles and job descriptions are forms of conversation shorthand that almost always conjure preconceived notions that are far too narrow. (What does “Lawyer” tell you?). Labels limit possibilities.

4) Choose targets wisely. There are those who desire dialogue, and those that want to hold court. While it is easy to drift toward the crowd gathered around one on stage, the individuals scattered around the edge of the room — alone or in pairs — may pose the best opportunities for rich conversation.

5) Build around Questions, not Talking Points (Or a canned “elevator speech”). Walk into your next networking event with two or three questions on the tip of your tongue. Specifics will depend on the situation, but here are two suggestions / idea starters:

  • What do you expect / hope to gain from attending this event?
  • If you could only participate in one or two events like this, which ones would you attend?

Effective Business Development Networking Instigates Conversations

Sure, there are those fortunate few for whom conversations that revolve around others seem easy. For the rest of us, perhaps — starting with the 5 ideas above — we can compile a practical list that makes networking feel a little less challenging. What will you add to our list?