Many people find professional networking to be one of those things that’s easier said than done. Sure, we all know that a business connection can lead to future gains, whether it be a sale or a job opening that suits you perfectly; however, not everyone nails the initial conversation to seal the deal. Below, you’ll find 25 ways to kick-start your next professional chat in order to ensure that you network successfully. Now, get to talking!
1) Breaking into the circle:
First, you want to narrow down the field and find someone that you want to speak to.
- “Hello, i’m (name).” – It’s so simple, and that’s why it works – saying hello to someone is a surefire way to break the ice. Just make sure that your introduction is given with just enough confidence to ensure that both of you feel comfortable in the conversation.
- “Mind if I join?” – Networking events often have plenty of chairs and tables where participants can chat or munch on snacks. Try and find the person you want to talk to, and then join his or her table.
- “Well, you guys are certainly having more fun than the last group I was talking to.” (Source) – Not all networking opportunities have to be boring. If you see a group of your peers having fun, there’s no harm in trying to work your way in on the joke. Besides, sharing a laugh with someone will help you feel closer.
- “Have you tried the (food/drink name)?” – It’s no surprise that people love to bond over good food and drinks. Just make sure that you don’t overindulge in the drink department, as just two alcoholic beverages can result in slurred speech, and that’s not going to help you network!
- “How do you all know each other?” – You might break into a circle, only to realize that you’re the odd man out of a group of colleagues or acquaintances. Luckily, this plays to your advantage if you ask everyone how they met each other. Once you ask the question, more people will chime in and become part of the larger conversation. Voila! You have networked effectively.
2) Going one-on-one:
You’ve found a person who seems to have similar interests. Now what?
- “What do you do?” – Unless you’re approaching a well-known face in your field, it’s OK to ask someone what he or she does. In fact, it’s a great way to strike up a conversation that’s work-centric, which is, after all, the point of networking.
- “I like your…” – Perhaps the female engineer next to you is wearing an eye-catching geometric necklace, or the male designer has an immaculately laid-out resume. No matter what, a sincere compliment goes a long way in fostering a more meaningful conversation.
- “These appetizers are so great I think I’m going to grab another. Care to join me?” – This is a great way to get your intended networking partner away from the group for a more personalized networking session. Clearly, food is a great conversation starter, but it can also be used to strike up a one-on-one conversation.
- “What did you think about the speaker/conference?” – Industry functions with slideshows and speakers might not necessarily be set up for networking, but a question like this can make it happen. Ask those around you what they thought about the speakers, who was their favorite, what was the most interesting part, etc. The conversation should flow from there.
- “What projects do you have lined up?” – Again, it’s OK to talk shop when it comes to networking. In discussing upcoming projects, you can get to brainstorming and transfer ideas. Your new acquaintance will be sure to remember you if your idea helps an upcoming project go off without a hitch.
3) Getting deeper:
You’re in! Now, find out more…
- “I saw (insert fact here) on your LinkedIn.” – Social-media research on an industry colleague is a great way to spark a conversation at a networking event. Perhaps you’ve seen that someone has received an award, promotion or grant. You can use this to kick off your conversation in a way that makes your conversation partner feel important.
- “What do you like about your job?” – This is a great question, for two reasons. One, the subject will feel important and be open to sharing his or her personal stories and beliefs. Two, you’ll get great insider information on the field in which you work or intend to work.
- “How did you get into this?” – As previously mentioned, everyone has a story. Career-origin stories are great because they get just personal enough.
- “What do you hope to get out of today?” – You know what you want, but does everyone around you want to network, too? It’s great to know what others are looking to gain from a particular event, as it can help you hone in on and achieve reasonable, attainable goals.
- “Are you from here?” – Use your acquaintance’s accent, attire, etc., in order to figure out where he or she might be from. Hometown stories and factoids are engaging, interesting and endearing.
- “I love your work.” – You might be speaking to someone well known in your field. Acknowledge that you’re a fan of his or her work, citing a specific example of a speech, publication or design that has had an impact on you.
- “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” – Unless you sense that you’ve met someone who wants to completely shift careers ASAP, then this type of hypothetical is a safe bet. It’s just personal enough without going overboard, and you can build a connection if you share some of the same hopes and dreams.
4) Out of left field:
These might not be the most “of course” conversation starters on our list, but they’re interesting — and they work.
- “Knock, knock …” – Someone in your field might really appreciate that new industry-specific joke that you just wrote. Try it out – it just might get a laugh big enough to build a conversation.
- “What are you doing this weekend?” – Again, no flirtatious connotations if you’re asking at a work function. You just might find that you share an interest or weekend plan with this person, which will give you something to bond over – and a time and place to see one another again.
- “Who do you have for the big game?” – Most people love to watch at least one sport. Try your luck if you think you have a sports fan in front of you, and reap the rewards if you find someone who shares your passion for football, basketball, tennis, curling … whatever.
- “Don’t I know you from …?” – This one works whether someone actually looks familiar or not. This type of conversation starter has pick-up line roots, but fear not: In a professional setting, it won’t be as see-through as it would be at a bar or dance club. Regardless of whether the person really does look familiar or not, you’ll probably start talking after you’ve learned his or her identity.
- “It’s so loud over there.” – People tend to drift to the same side of a room when they’re casually conversing. Start a new trend – and conversation – by bringing some people to a quieter corner and chatting there.
- “I want to talk to someone besides My colleagues!” – Everyone feels that post-work burnout, and colleagues sometimes remind us of that burnout just by being present. Use this universal feeling to your advantage by joining a conversation with completely new people, and explain to them why you’re doing it. They might get a chuckle!
- “Are you having trouble with the wi-fi?” – At larger events, the wireless Internet routers might have trouble keeping up with demand. Use the chaos to your advantage – ask others if they’re having trouble, too. It’s your job to keep the connection strong after that.
- “I really hate networking.” – Misery loves company. The guy in the corner sipping a beer and looking totally uncomfortable loves company, too. Why not bond over your mutual distaste for networking? You at least have one thing in common.
And, to finish … Remember that it’s easier than it seems. Just take a deep breath and walk up to the person you want to talk to. You’ll find that people are friendly, intelligent, open and conversational themselves – you have nothing to lose except a potentially helpful acquaintance. We wouldn’t suggest letting that one go.
Author: Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on finding happiness and success in the work world. You can find her dishing out advice with a side of wit on Twitter @sarahlandrum and her career advice blog, Punched Clocks.