I am an introvert at heart and have always been.  This doesn't mean an introvert cannot show moments of being an extrovert.  I work in the real estate industry that sometimes requires me to go out and network.  That means being surrounded by people I may not always know.  I still remember sometimes feeling awkward around strangers and I just wanted to leave.

I know for some people out there, they feel the same way as I do.  The though of just approaching a random stranger and starting up a conversation can be a scary thought.  But luckily, any skill can be learned and mastered.  

The secret to networking is to have a strategy in place and to prepare beforehand.  Below are 6 tips I have when you are going to a networking event and you don't know anyone.  

1. Prepare a 10 to 20 Second Elevator Pitch

The elevator pitch originated from the idea that someone can deliver a quick summary on a product, introduction of themselves, or an idea in thirty seconds to a minute.  Think of an accidental meeting with someone very important, and you only have a short time to make a great impression.  If the elevator pitch is great, then the conversation can go beyond the elevator ride.  Hence, the name "20 Second Elevator Pitch".

The 10 to 20 second elevator pitch is a quick biography of yourself when someone asks you to tell them about yourself.  Think of a few lines to describe yourself and about what you do at your company.  Try not to be too long winded and keep it straight forward.  After giving your quick biography, you can always follow up by asking what the other person does.

2. Prepare a Topic of Discussion

Thinking of a topic to start with strangers is probably one of my biggest obstacles at networking events.  When it comes to people you already know, there already is an idea of what that person likes and dislikes, so you can start a conversation easily.  For strangers, it is basically a blank slate and you are left figuring out what to say to the other person.  That is why having a number of topics to talk about can help ease the awkwardness.  

Some of the safest topics to talk about is the weather, recent industry news, or the recent big headlines.  Also pay attention to what the other person is wearing, sometimes you can start a topic by complimenting on what the other person is wearing.  

3. Arrive at The Event Early

Going to the event early before the large crowd forms can help reduce your nervousness.  I find it difficult approaching people when they are already speaking in a crowd.  By arriving early you have a higher chance of spotting the lone person standing there, this makes it easier for you to approach and say hi.   Another reason to arrive early is because you may feel more anxious and nervous initially.  By coming in early and letting your emotions settle down, it could help you recover quicker and get back to your game.  

4. Body Language is Important

The body language says a lot about who you are.  It could already convey a message to the other person even before you had a chance to say hi.  When you do arrive at the event, remember to smile and not cross your arms.  Crossing the arms gives the message that you don't care or you are closed up.  The smiling part can be a challenge if you are already nervous but sometimes you just have to do it.

5. Be a Good Listener

Being a good listener is important for networking because it will help you keep the conversation going.  The worse that can happen is the other person could be having a very engaging conversation with you, and you didn't hear a thing.  You end up responding to something that was not even related to the topic.  Truthfully, even if that happens, it is okay, people have made far more embarrassing mistakes at networking events.  

Now, back to the topic of being a good listener.  Listening is a good skill to have.  I sometimes forget people's names when they first introduce me because my mind was too preoccupied with something else.  Be a good listener and remember the names because the other person will be impressed if you can remember their names in the next encounter.  

Another reason being a good listener is important is because you want to build a rapport or connection with the other person.  When there is a commonality between both of you either through the same favourite sports team, or a common affection for anything in particular, the other person will likely remember who you are.  

6. Do Keep in Touch with The Contacts

From one networking event I attended, I still remember approaching the person first and saying hi.  From that first handshake, I found out he went to my university, and we had common friends.  He later referred me to a job posting and secured an interview for me.  This is the importance of keeping in touch with your contacts.  At the time I had no intention to ask about potential job postings.  I just wanted to expand my network.  Maintain the relationship because you never know when one of these people can help you in the future.  

If you want to go further in keeping in touch with your contacts, you can also start a database and write down the personal details you learned about them.  Another method is also try using LinkedIn and find out where they went to school.  If it was the same school or program you attended, you can mention this to them in your next meet up.  

Networking can be a difficult or an easy process.  It really comes down to your mindset and your approach to it.   As long as you are willing to put in the time to prepare and develop your strategy, any introvert can go out and become the centre of attention.