Networking events can be daunting: you’re in a room filled with industry professionals that you’re dying to impress, yet you’re too scared to approach them in case you say the wrong thing and ruin any chances you had at making that viral connection.
How do you just walk up to someone and start talking? What if they give you a one-word answer – or even worse: ignore you? The truth is that you are all there for the same reason: to spark a conversation with like-minded people. So, chances are that no one is going to turn you away if you walk up to them and introduce yourself with a smile!
The process is definitely much easier when you have a few effective conversation starters to fall back on. So, that’s why we’ve put together a handy list of ideas for you to put into effect when you need to break the ice at your next event.
1. Open with the Topic of Food
Talking about food is probably one of the easiest conversation starters. We all love to eat and it’s a great way to find common interests with others. By starting off with ‘food chat’, you’ll be able to easily move onto another topic.
- ‘I can’t stop eating these meatballs. Have you tried them?’
- ‘These appetizers are so great, I think I’m going to grab another. Care to join me?’
- ‘This sushi is delicious. I know a great place around the corner that’s just as good. Have you been there before?’
2. Ask Good Questions and Then Listen
Asking open-ended questions will get the other person talking and they will be more likely to open up when you show that you’re interested in their opinion and life experiences. You could talk about things everyone enjoys, like travelling.
- ‘I’m planning my next holiday and thinking about going to the beach. Do you have any locations you can recommend?’
- ‘Tell me about your experience today, what did you think you’ll take away from that presentation?’
3. Offer a Sincere Compliment
Most people enjoy compliments because they don’t hear enough of them and being genuine is essential – so don’t go up to everyone at an event telling them that you love their shoes when really you think they are hideous. They’ll soon see through your lies. If you really do admire someone’s attire, though, do let them know – you’ll not only make a new connection but also discover a new shop to buy from!
- ‘I love your bag. Where'd you get it?’
- ‘Your shoes look ideal for being stood on your feet all day! Mine are absolutely killing me. Where did you get them from?’
4. Know a Little about a Lot
If you know a little bit about a number of different topics, you’ll have more in common with the people you come across. You can acquire a lot of general knowledge through reading books, magazines and newspapers, watching movies and documentaries, and just from speaking to colleagues in the workplace.
- ‘Wow! I just can’t believe all the crazy news headlines today. What a week! What do you think about [insert topic]?’
- ‘Did you catch the game last night?’
5. Ask for Help
Everyone likes to be helpful in such a formal environment; they like to feel knowledgeable and like to have a purpose. Your best bet is to talk about the industry you’re both in or the outcome of the event.
- ‘Did you catch the first speaker? What was his/her talk about?’
- ‘Do you know how to get to the train station from here? I caught an Uber on my way as I had to rush straight from the office!’
- ‘Any chance you know a great sushi place around here? I’m not familiar with the area, and I’m headed to dinner after this.’
6. Introduce Yourself
There’s nothing easier than simply introducing yourself. Just make sure that you don’t freeze at ‘Hi, I’m…’ and that you have a question to ask after you’ve got the formal introduction out of the way!
- ‘Hi there! I’m Sarah. What’s your name?’
- ‘Hey, I’m Rachel. The fashion editor for XYZ magazine. What’s your name?’
7. Keep Your Introduction Simple
Your introduction doesn’t have to be witty or intelligent – it can just be something normal. Especially if you lean on the introverted side.
- ‘These networking events can be so crazy. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?’
- ‘So, what brought you to this event today?’
8. Find Something You Have in Common
Once you’ve got passed the initial introduction, dig a little deeper to find out what their hobbies and interests are. If you connect on a more personal level, they will be more likely to remember you and help you out in the future.
- ‘I love these canapés. I like spending my weekends discovering new restaurants and trying their taster menus. What do you do in your spare time?’
9. Bring a Networking Wingman
It’s a given that you’ll feel more confident with a wingman by your side. Try and convince a colleague to go with you to the event to make introductions easier and even use the classic Barney Stinson method: ‘Hi! Have you met my friend Ted?’
- ‘I overheard you work in marketing. My friend here also works in marketing – it seems like you’ll have something in common.’
- ‘Hi, we’re from X company. What do you do?’
10. Get Personal
Some people absolutely love talking about themselves. If it’s obvious that there’s a talker in the room, you could ask them a personal question and let them tell you about their experiences. You might even learn a thing or two from them.
- ‘How did you get into the industry?’
- ‘Hey, aren’t you friends with so-and-so?’
11. Ask about Their Job
By asking about their job, you’re more likely to find some common ground and could end up giving each other pointers on the industry. This will help you grow your professional network by identifying people that can become vital contacts.
- ‘What do you like about your job?’
- ‘Are you originally from [wherever the event is] or did your business bring you here?’
12. Ask What They Hope to Gain from the Experience
This question will lead to other avenues of conversation. It’ll also help you get insider information about the field you currently work in or are trying to get into.
- ‘What do you hope to get out of today?’
13. Find a Loner
You know how hard it is going to a networking event alone – that’s why you’re reading this article. So, if you spot someone standing in the corner, why not take the plunge and approach them first? Once you spark a conversation, you never know where it may lead.
- ‘It’s so loud over there.’
- ‘Man, these networking events can be so crazy. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?’
14. Talk about Sports
If all else fails, sport can be an interesting and light-hearted topic to touch on. People love to talk about sport and get really passionate about their favourite teams.
- ‘Are you talking about the game last night? That penalty was ruthless!’
The main key to nailing a conversation at a networking event is to put all your fears aside and not isolate yourself. Be open to random discussions and different opinions, and embrace the experience.
Do you have any conversation starter tips for our fellow readers? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments section below…