There are two ways to look at networking functions: A box to check, or an opportunity. Since you are there anyway, the “opportunity” option seems to make more sense. I’m always sharing the importance of leaving a business conference, a cocktail party, or a luncheon with new acquaintances. You might make a business contact or you might just make a friend. Either is good, because in both cases, more is better.
Most folks feel like small talk is a drag, but the reality, is it can open up so many more doors if done correctly. The trick is to make the conversation interesting and refrain from dancing with the lead shoes. Sometimes you get lucky and there is a shared passion in the conversation. Other times, you take the cue and excuse yourself to get a glass of wine.
Here is a simple technique that works for me:
After the initial “get to know you” questions about name and where the person works, my next question often starts with “I am curious about _____.” Then I ask about something related to this person’s line of work, etc. You will be amazed at how this puts people at ease. It an opportunity to show your interest and maybe even learn something along the way.