Mark Jennings used to be a wallflower at events, and then something changed … but even he wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

We all know that making meaningful connections at business events is critical to our success – but let’s face it, very few people love bursting into a room full of strangers and actively engaging. Many would prefer to shrivel up and die. I used to be the same.

I’ve attended hundreds of events, and run a bunch too and this is what I’ve learned…

Don’t aim to “do business”

Selling to someone you have just met is awkward, and it makes us feel nervous however good our product, and unless you have a God Given Gift for it, you’ll most likely be remembered as the guy with the sweaty handshake who spoke without pause for 10 minutes while the poor victim opposite is trying not to get caught scanning the room, for someone else to speak to.

Instead – talk about anything but what you do. Talk about them, what they do. People love talking about themselves and if you give them permission you quickly find out a lot more about them than if you are pitching. You’ll still pitch them, but at the right time, often weeks later over a coffee.

Pack the room with your friends

Networking at an event is no different to a house party, bring friends so you’re not the loner standing in the corner hoping the host spots you and has time to introduce you to others. Of course I don’t mean you should hang around together, the point is to make new connections, but just knowing that there is a friendly face in the room will give you confidence. Also, maybe your mate connects with the perfect contact for you and introduces you … teamwork.

Influence the guest list

This one is almost impossible unless you know the organiser, but it’s golden if you do. Influencing who’s coming to the event allows you to ‘make your own luck’, thinking about who you want to speak to and a chance to discover things about them first. If you are lucky then you end up being the only person in the room who knows what you know, or has the perfect solution.

Does it work?

I have used these techniques to great success in my career, and have gone from a shy wallflower to someone who is comfortable enough to jump in and speak to anyone at an event, but even so … nothing could have prepared me for what happened at a Digital Sizzle in 2012.

In April that year I was hanging around at Southworth’s flat when Michael and Bryce turned up to decide how they would fit the 400 people who wanted to attend the first Google Campus Digital Sizzle into the 150 capacity. Over several beers they decided who could come and who, sadly, couldn’t. At one point Bryce said “Books? Books are cool right? We have someone willing to give away Pan books at the event”. I said they were, “get her there”. None of us knew that this one little decision would change my whole life.

That girl turned up at the Sizzle in May, spoke to a friend of mine Carla in the queue (who I’d also pressed the Beards to invite) and then sat with us all when the burgers came out. I fell in love instantly and two weeks ago asked her to marry me. She said yes. Coincidentally I’d proposed in Greenwich Park, overlooking East London, and Google Campus where it all began.

Now if that’s not a meaningful connection then I don’t know what is.

Thank you Beards

Mark Jennings runs Drinks Galore, a spirits start-up, cycles for Room to Read with TechBikers and can’t grow a full beard, but does have a fine moustache.