It's 2012, so we've all mastered the finer points of social networking, right? But in an age of personal-brand-building, it's easy to forget that networking in person is one of the most beneficial (not to mention affordable) ways to market yourself. After all, it's the genuine, personal connections that make an impact—not the random LinkedIn requests.
Confidence is key
A proper introduction calls for a firm handshake, eye contact and a smile. A good attitude is contagious. It makes it easier to bring up what you're passionate about, and it makes them actually want to listen to what you have to say. And remember to dress the part. What you're wearing is essentially the first impression you give someone, even before you open your mouth.
Practice makes perfect
Of course, it helps to be an outgoing person, but networking is a skill that can be perfected. Ask a buddy to help you out—have him or her turn to you at unexpected times and play the part of the person you're hoping to speak with. If you can tune out distractions and get your point across succinctly, you're good to go.
Ditch the sales pitch
Just go for a natural conversation. Show interest in the other person by asking questions about them. This will create authentic opportunities for you to bring up what you do (and what you're looking to do).
Keep it short and sweet
Nobody wants to be cornered and you don't want to be remembered for commandeering someone's time. This is mingling, so keep the conversation light but relevant. After 15 minutes you should know whether or not this is someone you'll want to follow up with.
And then follow up
If things went well, you likely exchanged contact info or swapped business cards. Make sure to follow-up the day or two after, with a quick email or note reminding them of your conversation and what you can do for them. This is your opportunity to briefly outline your potential in whatever goal you're looking to accomplish, be it a job opening or collaboration.