Several people have asked me in the last few weeks, "How do you network?" It's not an easy question to answer. It's someting learned over time and almost 20 years of on and off consulting *gulp*.
However, the one suggestion that gets the biggest AHA moment for my fellow researchers is this: Be the first one to ask questions. Put on your researcher hat and just listen. Do you hear the collective sigh of relief? Ah, I get to listen! I'm good at that, you say, that's what I'm paid to do! Ask the questions that you want answers to, whether personal or professional, but it's much easier for most researchers to be in drivers seat to start with.
Within a few minutes, you'll have a good sense of the person you are talking to. Then, either they will turn the conversation towards you, or you can gently interject a similarity, something you have in common, or some work you have done that they may find interesting. Voila. You have networked and also connected as two human beings. (More on this at another time.)