Aim to be one of the first people at the event. It can be very intimidating if you arrive when there are already a number of groups formed and they are all in mid-conversation.
You might be able to connect with people prior to the event through social media. You could join a LinkedIn group or participate in chats using a Twitter hashtag.
If you connect beforehand, it will take the pressure off meeting people and sparking conversation.
Don’t worry about the conversation
Small talk is fine in this type of situation. Sometimes you can focus too much on making clever conversation, yet you shouldn’t try to overcomplicate things. Simply smile, shake their hand and introduce yourself.
Also, if there is an awkward silence, remember that it’s not just on you to fill it. Try not to mention the first thing that pops into your head – you don’t want to look back on the situation and cringe.
Many people enjoy talking about themselves – so let them! Come to the event with a number of open-ended questions that will be applicable to nearly everyone you meet. Asking about their interest in the event and their job are always good starting points.
Aim for quality contacts, not quantity
Many people can be reluctant to speak to people for the first time. If this does seem a bit scary, set yourself a small goal – perhaps speak to five people at the event. You could try to identify people that you would get along with as a friend – this will make conversations much easier.