The concept is straightforward: Find someone you don't know at the conference evening reception and strike up business-related small talk.

But as most people will confess, networking is not easy. And I'll admit it: I'm kind of shy, which makes it that much more difficult. Even managing a simple handshake can be a challenge when you're holding a glass in one hand and a plate of food in the other. And don't get me started on how I'm also supposed to find a third arm to pull out a business card.

So when the opportunity presented itself to attend a “speed networking” session on day one of a recent meeting on the West Coast, I was curious.

Speed networking, it turns out, is similar to speed dating, where potential mates meet in a low-pressure environment to chat for a few minutes before rotating to the next seat. The difference is that in speed dating, your goal is to narrow the playing field of possible matches, while the goal of speed networking is to add to your network. Already speed networking had an edge in my book — no fear of rejection!

The hourlong session, moderated by Cris Canning, CMP, head investigator for event marketing and consulting firm Hospitality Ink, began with about 50 attendees taking seats across from one another at long tables arranged in a horseshoe shape. Canning then instructed us to develop a 30-second “elevator pitch,” explaining what we do and why our partner across the table might want to know.

Once the networking began, the “pitches” took on a relatively natural, conversational flow, as pairs of attendees introduced themselves, swapped business cards, and chatted about how each could help the other.

After a couple of minutes, Canning, sounded her (very shrill) whistle and instructed those seated in the inner circle to rotate one seat to the right, and the whole thing started again.

While two or three minutes is not enough time to develop a real relationship with someone, it certainly broke the ice at the beginning of the conference. I know I talked with a slew of people I might otherwise never have met.

The consensus among other participants was overwhelmingly positive as well. “This is great,” said one attendee seated next to me.

Ah … another fellow networking phobe cured!