Professional networking is part and parcel of many jobs, whether it is through formal corporate events, informal networking events, or in a day-to-day capacity in the office.
Being able to start conversations with people is the foundation of building a network of professional connections. These connections can be integral to building business, establishing collaboration and finding a new job.
It can feel like a daunting prospect, especially if you are an but, in reality, it all it takes to strike up a conversation and build rapport with others is a good conversation starter.
To help you out, we have compiled a list of conversation starters for every professional scenario.
Networking events: joining a group
Networking events can be daunting; especially if you are trying to join a group, or circle of people. So, being armed with some conversation starters and questions that will get you in, without seeming rude or like you’re trying to take over will definitely help. Try these:
- Hello, my name is…
- Can I join you?
- How do you all know each other?
- This seems like the fun place to be, do you mind if I join you?
- It’s so noisy in here, this seems like a quieter group, do you mind if I join you?
- I don’t know anyone here but you seem a friendly bunch, do you mind if I join in?
- Is this an event you come to often, or are there any first timers here?
- Does anyone else find it as hard to break into a circle as I do? Can you put me out of my misery?
- The speaker was great today. What did you all think?
- Do you mind if I make my way in here?
- Hello, what are we all talking about?
- You look friendly, can I join you?
- Everyone is here to meet a potential client, partner or customer, let’s help each other out by saying who we want to meet and why.
- Hello, you seem to be having an interesting discussion, can I join you?
- Let’s all share with the group one thing about ourselves and where we work.
Networking events: one-to-one
Breaking into circle requires slightly different conversation starters than a one-to-one situation. Here are some ideas to get you chatting to individuals at a networking meeting:
- I find these things events quite nerve wracking, do you mind if I chat to you?
- You’ve found the coffee, my type of person!
- Is it me or is it freezing/boiling in here?
- What brought you here today?
- Have you been to this event before?
- What did you think of the speaker?
- What line of business are you in?
- I see they’ve put some food out. I’m going to get a bite, would you like to join me?
- How did you hear about this event?
- Could I borrow your pen?
- Have you ever delivered a presentation at one of these events?
- I’d like to talk to you because I’ve been trying to get a meeting with your company for a while.
- You look like you are finding it hard to break into a group too. Shall we start one?
- Networking can be a bit overwhelming in a large group, do you mind if I talk to you?
- Let’s start our own group and see who joins us.
- Who are you hoping to meet here today?
- How long have you been working for company X?
- Do you ever feel nervous at these events?
- Have we met before?
- I’ve seen you on LinkedIn, I think we are connected
- What do you like about your job?
- Is your current career linked to what you wanted to do when you were younger?
- What activities help you disconnect after work?
- What is your superpower?
- Do you know what time the first talk starts?
- Do you have any networking tips for an introvert?
- How did you hear about this event?
- How often do you come to networking events?
- I’m sure I’ve met you before. You’re in… Am I right?
- I hoped I’d meet another person in the same industry as me. Hello.
- Can you recommend any similar events?
- Has anyone ever told you that you look like…
- Do you have a bucket list? Have you ticked anything off?
Conferences are generally professional environments, but you are meeting people on a personal level who are there to learn just like you are. Therefore, talking about the event or topic is a great road in.
- What did you think of the first speaker today?
- Which topic of discussion are you most interested in?
- For how many years have you been attending this event?
- Do you attend a lot of conferences?
- What was it about this event that made you come along?
- Do you think you’ll come to the next event?
- What have you learned from this conference today?
- Do you recommend any similar events?
- I saw you taking lots of notes, is this a topic that really interests you?
- This city is new to me, can you recommend any places to eat in the area?
- Well, that took longer than I anticipated! Would you like to grab a coffee?
- What a beautiful venue, have you been here before?
- I love your outfit! I never know what to wear to these things.
- Are you a local here?
- What’s the food like here?
- Are you here for the whole day?
- Shall we pair up for the next workshop?
- If you had the stage and could give a talk on anything you wanted, what would it be?
- Do you have a quote you live by?
- Do you use positive affirmations?
- I really enjoyed your speech today.
- Did you find it easy to find the venue today?
- What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
- What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
At a corporate event, you are representing your company or workplace, so these are usually more formal and require an approach to starting conversations that matches to tone of the event.
- Who do you work for/who are you representing today?
- Have you been to this event before? This is my first time.
- Would you consider presenting at one of these events?
- Hello, can you tell me when the next speaker is on, please?
- I really enjoyed that talk, what did you think?
- Did you come from far today or is this a local event for you?
- Our companies do a lot of work together; I’d like to introduce myself.
- I’m going to get a coffee; can I get you anything?
- What a perfect place for an event, have you been here before?
- Have you seen the exhibits and displays? They are worth a look.
- Do you know what time we finish today?
- I love your work; I have been following your research.
- We’ve met before I believe, my name is…
- What advice would you give someone just starting out in the industry?
- What is your definition of success?
- If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
- If you could recommend one business book, what would it be?
- What is your best productivity tip?
- What is the best thing you’ve ever learned from a mentor?
- What are you enjoying most about this event so far?
- What do you like best about working for your department?
- The food looks great. I’m not sure what to have. Have you tried anything?
- Did you attend last year’s event?
- Are you as excited about this event?
- Who do you most want to meet from a professional standpoint?
- If you could choose anyone from history to mentor you, who would it be?
- What do people say is your greatest professional quality?
Sometimes in large organisations, cross-functional meetings or team building days take place. In most cases, these teams don’t come together often and may only communicate virtually, so introduction is often needed to break the ice. Here are some ideas:
- Hello, we’ve met before I think. Can you remind me of your name, please?
- Nice to put a face to the name. I’m…
- How long have you been working here now?
- What keeps you busy these days?
- What’s it like working in your team?
- What happens at lunch time? Do you know any good places to eat around here?
- If you work in this team, you must know Mary. How is she?
- What do you do outside of work?
- I’m quite new here, how often do these meetings take place?
- I’m dying for a coffee. Do you know where I can get one around here?
- Do you know the format for today?
- Has the company changed much since you joined?
- How did you get here today?
- Is it just me or are you having trouble with the Wi-Fi too?
- Do you have any tips for working here?
- Have you worked within any teams other than the one you’re in now?
- What did you think of that meeting?
- Do you think you’ll still be working here in five years’ time?
- Have you been to that new restaurant in town yet?
- What’s the coffee here like?
- Who is your manager now?
- I’ve heard great things about your manager. How do you find working with him?
- Can I sit with you in the next workshop?
- I didn’t quite understand that part in the last meeting. Could you walk me through it?
- What would you usually be doing now?
- Who was the best boss you ever had?
- I haven’t been to this meeting before. Can you explain the format, please?
- Would you like a tea or coffee?
If you’re a student or a recent graduate, attending a careers fair can be a great way to network with potential employers. Here are a few ways to start up a conversation with them when you are attending such events:
- I have written a CV with you in mind, would you be able to take a look and give me your opinion?
- I’m so glad you’re here today because I’ve been hoping to speak with you.
- Will I be working directly with you if I apply for your graduate programme?
- Could you tell me a bit more about your graduate programme?
- What is the best thing about working for your company?
- How long have you been working here?
- I’ve heard excellent things about the company culture. What is your favourite part about it?
- Have you got some tips I can utilise when applying with your company?
- What are you looking for in an entry-level employee?
- I’ve researched your company and I found your core values and mission to be extremely intriguing.
- I was quite excited to have opportunity to meet you, and I’m glad I finally have.
Outside of work
Sometimes, outside of work, we run into people who we know in a professional capacity. These out-of-context situations can be tricky to navigate. Do you act all professional, or take a more casual approach? These conversation starters may help you:
- Well, fancy seeing you here!
- I didn’t realise we lived in the same neighbourhood. Hello.
- How’s work going?
- Are you still working with Andrew? I haven’t seen him for a while. How is he?
- I almost didn’t recognise you. Hello!
- I’ve never been here before. Is it good?
- Can you recommend anywhere to get food after this?
- Are you off on holiday this year?
- Did you manage to get that report in on time?
- How is your day going?
- What are your plans for Christmas/new year/summer?
- We still haven’t had that lunch, fancy a coffee now?
- Who are you with today?
- What’s your email address?
- What days are you working next week?
- Are you going to Helen’s leaving party?
In the office
For some of us, office conversation flows. However, there is usually one or two people that we find it harder to gel with. Whatever the reason, you may need some conversation starters:
- I’m making a cup of tea. Would you like one?
- How about that meeting today? That was interesting!
- I’m going out to get lunch, would you like anything?
- What do you do for fun outside of work?
- What is it you like most about working here?
- Do you have any holidays planned this year?
- Did you have a nice weekend?
- If you could be anywhere else right now, where would you be?
- If you could work with one person in the office, who would it be and why?
- If you need anything, don’t be afraid to ask.
- What are you up to tonight?
- Did you go anywhere nice for lunch?
- Could I borrow your notes from this morning’s meeting, please?
- I’m going to go through the actions for tomorrow’s meeting. I’d love it if you would give me your opinion.
- Could I get your feedback on this?
- Are you watching anything good at the moment?
- What did you want to be when you were younger?
- What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?
- Do you have Mike’s email address? I can’t find it
- Would you like me to read over that report for you?
- We both know Mark. Do we have any other friends in common?
- Where did you grow up?
- What other industries are you interested in?
- How long have you worked here?
- When are you taking your lunch break today?
Sometimes our meetings with people, or our introductions are virtual. Having a few conversation starters ready will help you hit it off with professional contacts online.
- I’ve been following your work and I have been inspired.
- I’m a keen footballer/painter/musician like yourself.
- Hello, I hope you don’t mind me introducing myself
- Have you got time to answer a few quick questions?
- Can I buy you a virtual coffee and take 10 minutes of your time?
- We’ve been working in the same field for a while but we’ve never met.
- We were both registered for the event that was unfortunately cancelled. I wanted to introduce myself.
- I see we have very common work interests. My name is…
- I’ve noticed you’ve commented on some of my posts on LinkedIn, thank you for taking the time to read them.
- I see we have some mutual connections. Let me introduce myself
- We’ve worked alongside each other for a while, but our paths have never crossed.
- We are both went to the same university. I wanted to introduce myself.
- I always ask people to share their favourite quote with me. What is yours?
- Do you think online meetings will ever be as effective as in person meetings?
- What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you during an online meeting?
- Do you like working from home?
- What do you miss about being in the office?
- What’s the best thing about working from home?
- Do you have your own office space set up at home?
- What’s your favourite part about your job?
- What professional courses would you recommend?
Whatever situation you find yourself in, you can use it to start forming lasting professional relationships and a network of connections.
These conversation starters will help you get started but, of course, you can always choose to go off-script. By reacting naturally to a situation, you can ensure that you will have a genuine discussion with others and make a good impression by the end of your conversation with them.
Can you think of any other great conversation starters? Share them with us in the comments section below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article published on 8 March 2018.