People typically like to talk about what they know best, themselves. Ask about the basics: where are they from, is it their first time at this conference, what do they do, etc. This will get people talking and comfortable with you and get a cadence before getting into the nitty-gritty of things.
Also, certain settings at conferences tend to be more conducive to different styles of networking as well. While the tradeshow floor can be more business-oriented and fast-paced pitching, a lot of networking takes place at events off the show floor at dinners, or even at the hotel bar. These environments are much more relaxed and offer more casual conversations for folks to get to know each other and discuss business in a setting where you can often have more meaningful discussions without the pressure of having to run to a session or another meeting, so take advantage of these opportunities even if you are technically “off the clock.”
Rinse and Repeat
As previously mentioned, networking is a skill and like all other skills, takes practice and repetition to perfect. So test out different methods until you find one that works best for you. Developing a solid elevator pitch, and having some prepared opening line or questions to ask attendees will go a long way to making it feel more natural time and time again.
Do your research ahead of time, get yourself ready, pack plenty of business cards and have some fun with it and you’re on your way to having a successful event season.