5 Conversation Starters for Your Next Networking Event
Some people enjoy networking. Really! But for others, networking falls into the category of necessary evil. You might dread the experience, but once you arrive, it’s not that bad—and it has the potential to bring great rewards. Like anything else, networking is a skill you can develop with practice. Keep these five conversation starters in your back pocket for your next networking event, and you’ll see your comfort level (and your connections!) soar.
“I went to State…I see you did, too! What year did you graduate?”
When you’re introduced to a new contact, notice personal details, such as class rings, that might serve as an icebreaker. The first rule of networking is that people love to talk about themselves. After all, it’s the subject they know best. If you give them an opportunity to do so, they’ll feel good about themselves and—by osmosis—about you.
“How long have you been in D.C.? What brought you here?”
A location-related question can yield low-hanging fruit. This type of open-ended question will reveal additional background information on which you can connect. It also naturally leads to questions about what part of town they live in, what restaurants they like, shared mutual acquaintances, etc.
“I’m new in town…any recommendations for me?”
Not only do people enjoy talking about themselves, they also enjoy being perceived an expert. Ask for advice on restaurants, doctors, hiking trails, etc. If they recommend a favorite coffee shop, perhaps you can follow up by arranging to meet them there for coffee.
“I love your tie/handbag/necklace/etc. Where did you get it?”
Compliments are a guaranteed icebreaker. After all, the recipient is socially compelled to respond positively, and you can continue the conversation with a follow-up question. This is easy to do if the item was purchased at a unique location, such as a market in Morocco, but even if it came from Target, it’s easy to make conversation. (“I can’t get out of there without dropping $50 on things I never knew I needed.” See how easy it is to connect?)
“What do you love about your line of work?”
People love this question. It’s positive, and sometimes, it will give them pause to consider what they value most. The response will elicit not only interesting information for you but also a myriad of follow-ups: How did you get into this industry? What advice would you give someone considering this career? What professional organizations are you involved in? On paper, it might sound like an interview, but with a glass of wine and an appetizer in hand, the atmosphere will be relaxed.
The key is to keep your networking conversation starters open-ended, positive, and personal but not too personal. Keep things light and breezy. If your new connection isn’t taking the bait, move on. You can always make a quick trip to the buffet table or the restroom to break away and move on. You’ll know in your gut whether the interaction is going well or awkwardly.
Once you’ve invested the networking time, be sure to follow up with your new contacts. Connect with them on LinkedIn, or shoot them a quick “so nice to meet you” email. Bonus points if you can follow up with a resource you discussed during your conversation. (“Here’s the link to that article I mentioned—hope it’s helpful!”)
Love it or hate it, networking is a critical professional skill to develop. It’s easier to hang out with people you already know, but that won’t open any new doors. You never know whom you will meet—and which job openings they need to fill.