When I go to networking meetings I notice there are usually two kinds of people attending. First, there are the people who appear very comfortable and are meeting and mixing with lots of people. Then, there are the ones who are hanging out on the edges of the crowd, or beyond, looking uncomfortable. While I’m still not totally comfortable these situations, I’m no longer firmly affiliated with the uncomfortable group either. Here are some tips to help you become more comfortable and effective in these situations.

Remember why you went there in the first place. Typically, you believed when you went that there would be people here who could help you advance whatever your goal whether it’s enhancing your business, looking for employment, or making new friends. With that goal in mind, you can move to the next step.

If you see a friend or acquaintance there, say hello, tell him your purpose in case he knows someone else at the meeting who might be helpful. If so, get the introduction. If your friend doesn’t see a good contact for you, you have explained your purpose for being there and have an easy excuse to move on. If you feel awkward moving on, suggest speaking or getting together for coffee the next day.

Since this is for people who are uncomfortable with networking, I’m going to give you a piece of advice that will seem paradoxical: Don’t try to sell anything. Not feeling the pressure to make a sales pitch to total strangers is enormously liberating for the uncomfortable. I can hear you saying, “but I’m here to sell … (myself, my service, my product, my company)” Would you buy something significant from someone you have only known for a few minutes? Please say “no.” Why would you expect a stranger to buy anything from you after such a brief acquaintance? If you get nothing else from this piece, take this tidbit with you. You are not at a networking event to sell anything. You are there to meet people.

Find out about the other person. Find out she is at the event. Think of someone you know who can help her. Think of an article or website that will contain the information he’s seeking. Then, exchange cards and write on the back of his card what you’re going to do for him—send link to article, connect with another contact of yours. Promise to send the information within 48 hours. At this point, your new contact will usually ask what they can do for you. Now is your chance. Tell her why you are at the event. “I want to find a place to put on my art show,” or “I offer a service to help managers achieve better results and simultaneously reduce their stress levels,”or “I’m looking for a team lead position in an early stage Internet company.” I’d really appreciate it if you or someone you know can take some time to talk to me about my project.

Make sure that you follow up on the items you said you’d deliver. Send an email with a link to the web site or the book on Amazon.com. In the email, remind them of the meeting and tell them that you’re looking forward to hearing from them or the contact they were going to send you.

You can view your major activity at the event as finding out how you can be important. You are looking for people who you can do a small favor for. Since you’re not trying to sell someone something that you don’t think they want, you should have a major source of stress removed from yourself at the event.

You will get a lot of dead ends this way, but you will also make some great contacts for yourself and for future referrals. The more you do this and the better your contact network becomes, the more success you’ll have.