As someone who has visited a fair number of industry networking events in the past few years, I am under no illusion as to how hard it can sometimes be to get fruitful conversation rolling. Unless the bar is free or you’ve enough cash at hand to fully utilise its treasures, opening a dialogue with someone who could just prove to be a likeminded professional can be needlessly tricky.
The objective of a networking event is of course to encourage discourse and perhaps even collaboration between individuals or groups within the same field or profession. In order to reach such a stage in conversation however, we must first utilise our skills with ‘small talk’. No-one really likes small talk, but it’s often necessary. Here are three openers to get the conversational ball rolling before, after or even whilst enjoying a few of those (hopefully complimentary) drinks:
Find Someone Who’s on Their Own
Whether you are attending an event with a group of colleagues or riding solo, it’s always nice to make an effort to connect with the sorry souls standing around on their own. The reason for their solitude could be down to a lack of confidence; or even an unattractive personality- though there’s really only one way to find out.
Approach casually and offer up any number of typical openers (y’know- something about the food or the bar situation). By being friendly, open and somewhat general from the off not only will you be able to quickly assess whether there is a blatant reason they're on their own, but back out of conversation quickly should they prove to be utterly insufferable.
Pay Compliments, Insincerely if Necessary
There’s no better way of opening someone up for some light sparring in the chatty arena than by throwing a big sweaty compliment directly at their head. No matter what some people may say, there are few more psychological pleasing things than receiving a compliment.
Whilst providing the perfect way to commence a conversation, it may be best to formulate a follow-up strategy as well, should the recipient’s response prove little more than a sultry ‘erm, thanks’. Of course, the kind of compliment completely depends on the individual, though you’re creative guy/girl- so I’m sure you’ll come up with something believable.
If you’re about ready to pass the stage of the evening wherein you stuff as much buffet food down your neck as possible, and are wandering around looking for a serious slice of network-flavoured action, you may find the process speeds up with a little eaves-dropping. After all, the very reason for networking events is the perception that all of those present will have at least a few things in common.
Whether you overhear a conversation about last night’s game or a recent reshuffle at an organisation of note; if you have a valid opinion on the matter then simply butt in and express it. When doing so however, you must make sure of two things: 1) you don’t come off as an arrogant idiot, and 2) you swallow your buffet food first.
So there it is- a little reassurance that we all possess the capacity to feel daunted by networking events, as well as to adapt to and hopefully even benefit from them. If you’ve got your first such event of the year coming up, pay heed to this slack advice and you may just be all the better for it. Good luck!