Networking can be daunting. It can be awkward.
It is also rewarding.
Networking can help get you the career you want by meeting the right people:
Most jobs are never posted online, so you need to know people at the company you'd like to work at, which means networking is a key part to finding the role you want.
I used to be terrible at networking. It took a lot of practice to figure out how to do and, most importantly, not waste my time.
When you go to an event, any event, ask yourself why you're going. What's your goal? Is it to learn things? Meet people? Meet a specific person? It'll focus you while you're there.
If you're there to learn things, the talk will be useful, but so will the other attendees. For example, if you want to learn about clean energy software and you're at a cleanweb event, as other attendees
"Hi, I'm John. This is my first time at a cleanweb event. Have you been to their events before?"
Follow up: "I'm here to learn more about the industry. Are there other events or resources you recommend to learn more?"
"What brings you to the event tonight?" is a great icebreaker.
Meeting people, or a specific person
No matter what type of person you're looking to meet, whether at a specific company or a specific individual. find the organizer. They're likely to know some of the people in the room and they can connect you to the right person, even to people who could be hiring.
If it's not the exact person you're looking for, that's ok. Have a conversation with them, and mention that you're at the event to meet "a person from X company" or "other people in product management", then they can point you in the right direction.
Meeting a speaker
If you're looking to meet the speaker at an event, do your research ahead of time. Know what they look like. Go up to them before the event, because afterward, there will be other people who want to talk to them. Be short with your conversation. Say why you want to connect with them, get their contact information, then follow up with them that night or the day after. Many people take the contact information of people and never follow up.
Getting out of a conversation/making the most of your time
Don't spend too much time with any one person. You'll know within a few minutes if the person you're talking with is someone you'd like to connect with. Options for ending a conversation:
If you're having a good conversation with someone and you'd like to continue it, suggest that you connect (exchange contact information) and have a phone call or get coffee with them.
Follow up with people you met the sooner the better.
Stay in touch. I send out an email once in awhile.