The importance of networking in the modern professional world cannot be stressed enough—as evidenced by the fact that we stress it quite often on this site. Networking events open up so many doors that you may not have known were there, especially when on the job hunt. But while some people are in their element at a networking event, others struggle to strike up conversations with complete strangers. To overcome the uncomfortable nature of the networking events and get the most out of them we’ve put together some simple icebreakers to get those conversations started.
The straightforward approach may seem obvious to some, but also daunting to many. But while it may feel intrusive or awkward to just introduce, rest assured that everyone is there for the same reason as you; to meet fellow professionals and establish connections. You’re doing them a favour by getting things rolling.
‘What kind of work do you do?’
No reason to jump around the issue at hand. A professional networking event is meant to bring together industry people so get right to the heart of it by inquiring what they do for work. This can open up a lot of avenues for the conversation to take itself naturally without you having to keep it alive.
‘Are you from here originally?’
A little small talk is always a good way to keep things going if you’re having trouble finding that common ground. Finding out where they are from opens up the possibility that you share connections with each other, which brings us to…
‘Do you know…?’
Establishing where this person lives and where they work means you can start digging into what you two share in common. Perhaps you share mutual friends or colleagues. This can go a long way to strengthening them as a connection because you’re no longer a stranger, you’re Steve’s friend or you work with Karen.
‘Do you come to these events often?’
Part of what makes some people uncomfortable is that it feels like a speed-dating event. If that’s your hesitation with it, then a clichéd line like “Come here often?” might make you cringe, but just remember what the purpose is behind starting a conversation. A question like this opens the doors to discussions of networking, the professional world and your own goals.
‘What motivated you to come to this event?’
If you’re still having trouble finding that common ground, switch the conversation to something that you know you share; this event. Ask them why they decided to attend the event and what they hope to get out of it. Chances are that you share similar hopes and goals, and you could get right down to business by helping each other out. You could share connections, discuss opportunities and offer helpful strategies.
‘How are you liking the event?’
Again, you’re attending the same event, why not discuss it? This is more small talk but great a icebreaker when needed. Ask they their opinion on the event to open up the conversation. It can be a general take on the event or more specific—how do they like the speaker, the food, the music, the venue? All this can lead to discussing other events and potential cluing you into more opportunities you weren’t aware of.
‘Would you have any advice for…?’
A little flattery goes a long way. Not to make this seem like a false tactic (it can be genuinely helpful) but getting people talking about their own work is a sure fire way to keep the conversation going. If you don’t happen to share the same occupation, ask them about theirs and maybe solicit a little advice if appropriate. It will show your interest and form a connection between each other.