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Face-to-face interactions are as important as ever when it comes to meeting new people, whether you’re looking to build your business or land a new job. But you can’t just walk up to someone and say, “Hey, do you want to buy from me?” or “Hi, do you have any job openings?” Well, you could, but there’s a better way.

Networking is a primary purpose of business gatherings, so no one will be shocked that you want to meet them. They’re there for the same reason. Perhaps hoping to meet you.

With the right approach, you will come off as the confident professional you are. You’ll make a great impression, and the conversation is off and running. It could be the start of a valuable relationship for both of you. So what’s the right approach? Below, we reveal some of the secrets that will help you approach anyone, anywhere.

Resist the urge to cling.

What a relief! You spot someone in the room you’ve already met. You zoom over to them and stick with them like a limpet for the remainder of the gathering. As tempting as this may be, you’re wasting your time and keeping them from doing their own networking. Your goal is to meet new people. So greet to those you know, but focus on those you don’t know. Yet.

Fear not, a little fear is OK.

Let’s face it, some people are naturally a lot more outgoing than others. If you’re an introvert or feel shy around strangers, you are not alone. You might be surprised to know how many people are just like you. If they don’t appear that way in business situations, it’s because they have learned to overcome their fears. You can, too.

Learning to look and feel confident in business groups will help you in ways that extend far beyond networking. It’s a form of professional and personal development. It will make you a stronger asset for your current employer, and a preferred candidate for that new job you want.

Pretend you aren’t shy.

Instead, pretend you’re the host/ess of the gathering. It’s your job to help people join in and feel comfortable. By introducing yourself to someone else, you’re very possibly helping another shy person overcome their own fears. Right off the bat, both of you have met someone new.

Just say “hi.”

Take a deep breath and walk up to that stranger. Offer your hand for a shake and say, “Hi, I’m Nancy Networker.” (You could actually say this – you’ll get a smile in return and you’ll be memorable, a major goal of networking. Or course you’ll want to tell them your real name, too.)

If your target is deep in conversation with another person, don’t approach them. However, if you see two or three folks chatting, walk up to the group, smile and introduce yourself. This is an easy way to meet multiple people at once.

What to say next?

Exchange business cards. They are the currency of networking, so make sure you have plenty with you. That way you can follow up, and you have instant conversation starters – the person’s job title and company. Ask about what they do, what they like best about their job, how they have fun outside of work, if they have a dog.

If it’s someone you specifically wanted to meet, tell them that. And tell them why. Immediately, you’re connected. Take notes, if you want to, in a small notebook or on the back of their card, but don’t turn the conversation into an interview. That’s for next time.

If you’re job-hunting, be ready to explain briefly what you’re looking for and why.

Be present.

Networking isn’t about adding notches to your “contacts belt.” Give each person your complete attention. Listen to what they’re saying, so you’ll remember it and can ask pertinent follow up questions. Scanning the room for your next “find” is rude.

With practice, you’ll be comfortable approaching anyone, anywhere, not just at networking gatherings. You’ll meet people who want to do business with you and who will be delighted to help with your job search.

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