Start off right
Ditch the question: What do you do?
Instead try: What brings you here?
I love this question because it cuts straight to the chase...
Why are you here and how can I help you?
Listen with the intent to help
I talk with a lot of people who assume that they have nothing to offer - and that's just not true! Everyone has the potential to help, even students, job seekers, and people early in their careers. Your contribution could be:
Listen with the intent to learn
As you're hearing about their reason for being at the event, chances are good that you'll find out what the person does or wants to do. Follow up with questions like:
Don't afraid to talk about non-work topics!
Be memorable by finding a personal connection. I usually start with something generic that's a good launching point, such as:
What do you do for fun?
You never know what you might learn. I recently shared with someone that I love to be creative in my personal life through cooking, gardening, and sewing - she immediately related to my gardening obsession and we had a great conversation. Shared experiences are the foundation for trust, and trust is essential for the person wanting to establish a relationship.
Make your pitch
Throughout this conversation, you'll have plenty of opportunities to share about yourself. Practice your pitch in advance to make sure it's brief, informative, and engaging. Be able to explain yourself 30 to 60 seconds - the more someone drones on about themselves, the less likely a connection is forged!
Keep it going after the event
If you want to stay in touch with the person, make the ask: