Are you the type of person who thrives in a bustling environment, who can talk to anyone about anything? Or is the thought of standing in a room full of strangers at a networking event or conference intimidating?

Sometimes it can be tough to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know very well, or don’t know at all, if you aren’t naturally all that extroverted.

Even if you are a decent conversationalist, it takes practice to strike a balance between friendliness and strategic communication.

For those who travel frequently for business, maintaining contacts is equally vital to the growth of your career and pursuit of your goals.

For several years, I’ve followed four simple guidelines that make it a little easier to meet people outside the office. You can use these guidelines to make the most of your first impression and lay the foundation for future interactions.

Be proactive

One of the easiest pathways to find like-minded people with whom to connect is social media, where engagement and conversation are expected. For example, I like to break the ice with people on social media before I meet them in person at an event or conference.

I follow them on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn, or sign up for their blog notifications to learn a bit about them before I ask for an in-person meeting. Doing so ensures we’ll have more to discuss than just work opportunities!

For example, I’ve known Fred Faulkner, Director of Marketing at ICF Olson in Chicago, for several years. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person at a conference in spring 2018 after we both tweeted about attending. I direct messaged him and asked if he’d like to meet up at the conference, and it was fun getting to finally put a face to the name.

Be personable

Perhaps my most important tip is to focus on the relationship, not the potential sale. I opt for a more personable approach wherein I often reach out before the event and express interest in something real and relevant to the person I want to meet, such as a recent social post or blog article. Then I suggest meeting for coffee or lunch during a session break to learn more about their endeavors, not to sell them something. It’s all about building the relationship first and the business opportunity can grow from there.

Be strategic

It’s important to balance friendly banter with the ultimate goal – helping each other. Find common ground and expand your conversations from there. An easy way to do this is to ask about current industry happenings and get their opinion.

Engage in small talk between conference sessions, and try to learn about and exchange valuable information with the other person. For example, I’ve found that when I mention where I live, the person I’m talking to has ties to the area about half the time. This can be a good first step to establish trust and extend the conversation.

Be real

Personal and professional relationships should be built on truth. Share your story and be yourself. It’s OK if there is nothing to talk about or the conversation just isn’t clicking. Making conversation takes practice. If you’re nervous to meet someone, keep this mantra in mind: people are just people.

Conversations happen every day that can lead to career advancement or financial opportunities. And many of these conversations happen outside the office. The next time you participate in a conference, social media chat, or other industry event, take time to meet and engage with other attendees. The best way to learn is from each other, and industry networking is the perfect opportunity to do just that.