Networking is a great way to make contacts and establish relationships, but not everyone is good at small talk. Luckily there are tried and tested tactics for breaking the ice and getting a conversation going.
1. Be prepared
Think through in advance some topics you can talk about. You don't need to have a shared interest to connect with others, you just have to share your interests - talking about something that you're passionate about will automatically engage those around you.
You can also prepare some ice breaker questions in advance. Choose questions that are open-ended so the listener can't just answer with a yes or no.
2. Make the first move
Finding someone to talk to in a room of strangers can be daunting but remind yourself it is preferable to standing by yourself. A good tactic for breaking into conversations is to make eye contact with someone, smile at them and ask: 'do you mind if I join you?'
Another tactic is to ask someone else to break in and introduce you. If you have just arrived at an event and don't know anyone there, ask the organiser to introduce you. Once you have made your first contact, you can then ask them to introduce you to their contacts.
People enjoy being listened to, so you don't need to always do the talking to engage with others. If you can get someone to speak about their experience and opinions - while you listen with interest - you have a firm foundation on which to build a relationship.
4. Help others
Networking is a two-way street so you have to be prepared to give as much as you take. It's not all about what you can achieve, but also about what you can do to help others.
5. Follow up
Don't let all your efforts in making contacts go to waste; always exchange business cards/contact details and follow up after the event. Jot down some details about the person obtained from your first meeting and you can use this as a conversation starter next time you make contact.