While the presidential candidates compete for the hearts and minds of the American people on Friday night, singles will be competing for the hearts — and phone numbers — of the opposite sex.

On Oct. 8, hundreds of people looking for love in northern California will participate in the Bay Area Flirting Championship (search). The objective: to collect more phone numbers from people in a five-minute period than anyone else in the room. The prize: a lot of phone numbers.

The Flirting Championship is merely the highlight of a convention run by Rich Gosse, head of MeetYourUltimateMatch.com, who runs singles events all over the country and developed the contests to help people get accustomed to mingling.

“The most difficult thing at a giant singles event is you have all these people who want to meet someone, but they are scared to death,” said Gosse. “So, how do you get them to meet each other and get them to see each other again? The number one task is getting someone’s phone number.”

The objective of the contests is to help singles overcome their fear of rejection and encourage them to take a chance when meeting a member of the opposite sex.

"The biggest mistake people make is to not go over and talk to someone," said Gosse.

Trish McDermott, "vice president of romance" at Match.com, thinks there is something of a flirting crisis in America.

“I have concerns that we as a society have become less flirtatious,” she said. “Men and women say it’s harder and harder to make that initial connection in our day-to-day lives.”

In the contests, all the singles in the room have five minutes to meet as many people of the opposite gender as possible — and secure their digits. But it’s easier said than done, according to Gosse, who said female flirters consistently finish with more phone numbers than the guys.

“Most guys don’t have the strength to ask for a phone number, so the whole competition is, how do you get someone’s number?” he said. “A lot of women don’t like to give out their number. That’s OK. I tell them, ‘Make [the men] work for it.’”

But according to Nancy McDermott, 54, who was crowned "Flirting Champion of Wisconsin" at a recent event, getting men to give up their information isn’t easy, either.

“Most of the men won’t even look at you ... one guy said, ‘I don’t give out my number until I know I’m going to date someone.’ Well, how do you know if you are going to date someone if you don’t give your number away?” asked McDermott, who is no relation to Match.com’s VP of romance.

McDermott, who lives in Fox Point, Wis., secured 19 phone numbers to claim the flirting title, but didn’t call any of them later.

“It wasn’t like you would remember them,” she said. “It was just to see how many numbers you could get, to make eye contact.”

Building social skills, like the ability to make eye contact, smile and start a conversation, is the main point of the conventions — skills that Gosse said many singles sorely lack.

"I tell people smiles are like AMEX. You never leave home without one," he said. "Don't go to a singles event if you are not prepared to stare at people and smile at them all night long."

Match.com's McDermott said the flirting competitions, while gimmicky, can translate to increased confidence where it counts — in daily life.

"The real benefit occurs when people walk out into the world and give themselves permission to be a little more flirtatious than they were the day before," she said. "The world is a better place for all the flirting that goes on."

And although Nancy McDermott said finding interesting single men doesn't seem any easier now than it did before she was named the flirting champ, she does feel more prepared to talk to men — and not worry about the outcome.

"I used to be really shy. I've gone to a number of workshops. You learn to open up. You are going to get rejected — but so what."