I think one of the hardest things about networking events is just getting a conversation going with someone—without being awkward about it. Approaching someone new can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.
So, what are some natural and easy ways to break the ice?
Here are some tips and tricks for starting a conversation at a networking event:
Go Fishing At The Food Table
While waiting in line for food, start chatting up the person next to you. This is a great opportunity to get a conversation started because you already have something in common: the food. Everyone is thinking about the same thing. What am I going to try? What looks good? So instead of just standing there in silence, start a conversation.
Here are a few conversation starters for this situation:
- “Oh man, everything looks so good. I’m not sure what to get! What are you thinking?”
- “Yummy, they have ____! Have you ever tried it?”
- “Hmm, I’m not quite sure what that dish is…do you know?”
Who knows, you might leave the buffet with a better plate of food AND a new contact! That’s a win-win in my book.
Find A Loner
If you see someone standing alone in the corner, clutching his or her drink, and looking miserable, don’t be afraid to walk up and introduce yourself. Typically, these people need a little help getting the conversation going.
Here are some icebreakers:
- “Man, these networking events can be so crazy. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?”
- “Wow, there are a ton of people here! The food must be good, huh?”
If someone is standing alone, he or she is probably feeling uncomfortable or unconfident. If you initiate the conversation, it could make them feel more relaxed and willing to connect.
Everyone loves compliments, especially when they are feeling insecure (and many people do feel that way when attending networking events). If you’re struggling to start a conversation with someone, find something to compliment.
Here are some ideas:
- “Yum, that drink looks good. What is it?”
- “Cute shoes! Where did you get them?”
Talk About Sports
People love talking about sports. If you’re a sports person, use it to your advantage!
See someone wearing a Red Sox cap? Say something like, “Red Sox fan, huh? Did you catch the game yesterday?” Overhear a group of people talking about last night’s game? Express your interest in the conversation by saying something like, “Are you talking about ____?” and then chime in.
Just Say Hello
Sometimes, the easiest way to meet someone is to offer a handshake and say, “Hi, I’m Peter.”
Simply introducing yourself with a smile and a dash of confidence can work wonders.
Keeping The Conversation Going
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, but how can I keep the conversation going after the initial question? It’s easy! Talk about something else you have in common—the event itself!
Here are some ideas:
- “I’m Gina, by the way, nice to meet you…”
- “So, is this your first time at one of these events?”
- “So, how did you hear about this event?”
- “What a great place for an event, huh? Have you ever been here before?”
After that, try learning more about them. Questions can include:
- “Are you from the area?”
- “What line of work are you in or trying to get into?”
Next step: get them talking. Remember, people generally like to talk about themselves. So, once they tell you what they do, ask questions about it. Here are a few:
- “That’s very interesting…”
BONUS: Your Exit Strategy
It’s that time: your drink is dry and you’re ready to move on. When the conversation starts to wind down, don’t try to force more. Remember, you’re there to mix and mingle—don’t chain yourself to one person all night.
If you’d like to exit a conversation, try one of these lines:
- “Alright, I’m going to get some food now that the line has died down a bit. It was great meeting you!”
- “Have you met Lisa? She works in your industry as well. I’m sure you both will have plenty to talk about. I’ve got to say hello to someone, but I’ll be back.”
- “Well, I think it’s time for me to head out. I would love to talk with you again, though! May I have your card/contact information?”
Remember these conversation starters (and enders) during your next networking event to get the most out of your time there. Happy networking!
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This article was originally published at an earlier date and was inspired by the author’s personal experiences and the advice of Susan RoAne, author of How to Work a Room.
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