1. Act like a host, not a guest. Take on the active role of a host, even if you are not the actual host. Introduce yourself to people and introduce them to others. Let people know where to find the food and drinks.
2. Maintain a "Mona Lisa" smile as your default expression. Instead of keeping your mouth in a neutral position (which actually looks more negative than neutral), try to keep a small half-smile ready to burst into a grin or even an open-mouthed laugh. Nothing says "I'm friendly, open and noncritical" like a smile.
3. Pick your position. The best places for networking are high-traffic areas — the entrance, the food table or the bar. Move away from those areas for longer conversations.
4. Remember names. As soon as someone says his or her name, mentally repeat it a few times. Repeat the name in conversation: "So, what type of business are you in, Jim?" Later, while names are fresh in your mind, write them down in a notebook or on the back of a business card, along with any pertinent or identifying information.
5. Use "see and say" to start conversations. If you can both see it, you can comment on it. "The food looks really good!" Common ground is the basis for small talk.
6. Listen reflectively. Listening is not just waiting for your turn to talk. Reflect back by paraphrasing, summarizing or asking for clarification. "Tell me more about that."
7. Wear a conversation piece — a piece of jewelry or an interesting tie, for example. It helps other people initiate conversation with you and gives you the opportunity to tell the interesting story behind the item.
8. Face your conversation partners to make sure they can use your facial movements to discern meaning.
Source: Diane Windingland, author of "Small Talk Big Results."