Networking Events Conversation Starters

18 Easy Conversation Starters For Networking Events

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I think one of the hardest things about networking events is just getting a conversation going with someone – without being awkward about it.

Related: 10 Tips For People Who Hate Networking

Approaching someone new can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.

So, what are some natural and easy ways to break the ice? Here are some tips and tricks:

Go Fishing At The Food Table

While waiting in line for the food, start chatting up the person next to you. This is a great opportunity to get a conversation started because you already have something in common: the food. Everyone is thinking the same thing, What am I going to try? What looks good?

So, instead of just standing there in silence, start a conversation. Here are a few conversation starters for this situation:

  • “Oh man, everything looks so good… I’m not sure what to get! What are you thinking?”
  • “Yummy, they have ___! Have you ever tried it?”
  • “Hmm, I’m not quite sure what that dish is… do you know?”

Who knows, you might leave the buffet with a better plate of food AND a new contact! That’s a win-win in my book.

Find A Loner

If you see someone standing alone in the corner, clutching his or her drink, and looking miserable, don’t be afraid to walk up and introduce yourself.  Typically, these people need a little help getting the conversation going.

Here are some ice breakers:

  • “Man, these networking events can be so crazy. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?”
  • “Wow, there are a ton of people here! The food must be good, huh?”

If someone is standing alone, he or she is probably feeling uncomfortable or unconfident. If you initiate the conversation, it could make them feel more relaxed and willing to connect.

Compliment Them

Everyone loves compliments, especially when they are feeling insecure (and many people do feel that way when attending networking events). If you’re struggling to start a conversation with someone, find something to compliment.

Here are some ideas:

  • “Yum, that drink looks good. What is it?”
  • “Cute shoes! Where did you get them?”

Talk About Sports

People love talking about sports. If you’re a sports person, use it to your advantage!

See someone wearing a Red Sox cap? Say something like, “Red Sox fan, huh? Did you catch the game yesterday?”

Overhear a group of people talking about last night’s game? Express your interest in the conversation by saying something like, “Are you talking about ……?”, then chime in.

Just Say Hello

Sometimes, the easiest way to meet someone is to offer a handshake and say, “Hi, I’m Peter.”  Simply introducing yourself with a smile and a dash of confidence can work wonders.

Keeping The Conversation Going

I know what you’re thinking, Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, but how can I keep the conversation going after the initial question?

It’s easy! Talk about something else you have in common – the event itself! Here are some ideas:

  • “I’m Gina, by the way, nice to meet you…”
    • “So, is this your first time at one of these events?”
    • “So, how did you hear about this event?”
    • “What a great place for an event, huh? Have you ever been here before?”

After that, try learning more about them. Questions can include:

  •  “Are you from the area?”
  • “What line of work are you in or trying to get in?”

Next step: get them talking. Remember, people generally like to talk about themselves. So, once they tell you what they do, ask questions about it. Here are a few:

  • “That’s very interesting…”
    • “What drew you to that line of work?”
    • “What do you like about your job?”
    • “Why are you interested in working in that industry specifically?”

BONUS: Your Exit Strategy

It’s that time: your drink is dry and you’re ready to move on. When the conversation starts to wind down, don’t try to force more. Remember, you’re there to mix and mingle – don’t chain yourself to one person all night.

If you’d like to exit a conversation, try one of these lines:

  • “Alright, I’m going to get some food now that the line has died down a bit. It was great meeting you!”
  • “Have you met Lisa? She works in your industry as well. I’m sure you both will have plenty to talk about. I’ve got to say hello to someone, but I’ll be back.”
  • “Well, I think it’s time for me to head out. I would love to talk with you again, though. May I have your card/contact information?”

More Resources

For more great networking tips, check out these articles:

What conversation starters (or enders) do you like to use? What works for you?

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Ariella Coombs

Ariella is the Content Manager for CAREEREALISM. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Follow her @AriellaCoombs or find her on Google+.

71 comments

  1. Good feedback. I seem to resonate with the guy you just responded to. One of worst frustrating dilemmas i have encountered is having met some people at events and being as friendly, positive and calm as i can and taking interest in getting to know them and finally exchanging cards, but sadly with some have never heard back from them even after sending them 3 or even 5 emails spaced out. I wonder why certain seasoned professionals and who seem well respected in their field act like this and wish there was a formula by now to figure out whether the other party will reply back and reliable even after a warm response that appears sincere at the event. I truly wish by now it is played out that when one reaches out and sincerely kind that he/she not be forgotten or not be responded to and i always hear what comes around goes around or of karma.

  2. Just saw this article on LinkedIn–I wrote a few tips a while back in a post “From Geek to Guru: 14 Networking Tips for Shy People” http://smalltalkbigresults.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/from-geek-to-guru-14-networking-tips-for-shy-people/

    Tip #1: Maximize “impersonal” networking methods. Email the organizers prior to the event to ask some sort of relevant question, such as directions or expected dress. Then, when you get there, you have an excuse to start a conversation with the person helped you, if they are there. You can also ask event organizers to introduce you to people. Use email and networking sites to connect with people before and after you meet them.

  3. Thanks for the information Ariella, I completely agree. Networking events can be difficult and even ‘awkward’ in some situations but if you have a good strategy and employ the things that you’ve covered in this article then it should be a breeze!

  4. That’s some really useful information. This is a known fact that the first impression is always very important. To get some advice on how to do it is indeed quite beneficial!

  5. Good advice, another point is not to look at an event from the point of view of just getting business, I think it helps when you also look at it from the point of view of “who’s services are useful to me”, that way you do not feel you are “selling”. Not sure about the line – “Cute shoes! Where did you get them?” though!

  6. Super article – some great topics and with a bit of preparation anyone can not only enjoy a networking event but also develop the relationships that lead connections and a win-win for all.

  7. Another great piece of advice I heard on a BNI training session, was to act like a host. In you aren’t an extrovert, and find talking to strangers a little frightening, just introduce people to each other as if you were hosting a party at home. It takes some of the pressure off from worrying about what to say to people.

  8. Fantastic article. I joined Toastmasters which has built up my confidence, yet being shy I find it still hard at networking. it use to feel like my head was in a tumble dryer, spinning and couldnt think straight, so very hard to take the next step forward. However, I do, as i realize nothing will happen to me if I struggle, and the other people generally help anyway.

  9. That’s really great if you are an extrovert. Some of us are not . I’ll go into the corner and stay there and no amount of provocation will get me out. People don’t try to find you out, they are doing what everyone else does at these things, trying to advance themselves at minimal costs. I find that one true contact, one true business card, is better than a raft of phonies.

    • Hi Jeffrey,
      As an extrovert and AAA personality I always have something to say to just about anyone. Strangers are friends you haven’t met yet. I respect your feelings and understand how you feel. I was the same way until I took a public speaking course many years ago. You may not need many people to interact with you and your business. I have found the more people I know, the more my business grows. Networking events can be uncomfortable for many people, and yes there are some people who are “takers” and not givers. They should be avoided at all cost. But…there are so many people who feel the same way you do. Going to a networking event takes practice, patience and a will to listen to others. Although I have not benefited monetarily by networking events, I have learned so much about others and their industries. A better educated “salesperson” is something I always strive for in my business. Try a public speaking course and see if your feelings about being surrounded by “phonies” may turn into some killer referrals. Good Luck.

  10. Some great tips for “openers”. Any suggestions on these situations?
    1. New to a group where most people know each other — how do you break in to a small group of people to join the conversation?
    2. Someone you really want to meet/talk to is always surrounded by others — pretty much the same question as above.
    3. How do you gracefully back away when one individual is monopolizing your time?

  11. Richard Arnott, although its tempting to agree with you, I remind myself that everyone was new to networking at one point. That would include you.

    Great article. Definitely took some ideas from it.

  12. If someone is so socially inept that they need to read a guide on how to start a conversation they really shouldn’t be at a Networking event.

    SWSWSWN

    • Uh, Richard, at best, it seems extremely naive to think that all people are socially competent. Going to a networking event is a great way for the less socially adept to learn how to engage others. I’m sure it’s not easy for them to overcome their fears and anxieties at being in social settings. The tips in the article are great for them.

    • Uh, Richard. I was new to conferences and networking at one point and this article would have been much welcomed. Networking at a conference in a professional capacity is somewhat different to mingling at social events.

  13. I am interested as to what cultural background (US??) the discussion and comments on rascism originate from or wish to portray.
    I re-read the article and found nothing which would prompt this, rather than the photo.

    I would agree with one writer that the comments seem to reflect more on the writers than on the writer of the article.

    Why go completely off tangent to discuss what are really irrelevant matters in the context of this post. I suspect that any article would have given rise to those wishing to raise their agenda…

    On which I wish I could find a reason in this to start a rant against the terrible WP8, and how hopeless microsoft have become.

  14. Hey guys,

    great article but you missed one important thing: How to focus on those people that might be most important for you?

    Obviously time is limited and you can not talk to anyone attending. If you use the new app MYLO – My local network you will be able to see all people around you, anytime & anywhere. The app also provides a User profile that is generated based on the information of your social networks so that you can get a first impression easily. But the best thing really is that you are able to search all data in all major social networks with just one app!!!

    Go and get it for free at: http://go.mylo.de/iOS

    • With respect, plugging your app isn’t doing you any favours here, and who wants to talk to the geek who is staring at his mobile phone handset when he should be establishing eye contact and talking to people. I’d love to meet you at one of these events; first thing I’d do is ask to look at your phone/tablet and then proceed to drop it in the wine cooler…

  15. This is an incredibly helpful article with practical tips. I know how important it is to network at these events but I do struggle with how to get a conversation started. Thank you!

  16. Great article. Coming from someone who is not good with either small talk or talking about herself, I am more than happy to talk about the food or shoes and then get the other person talking.

  17. It was a nice article and provided ways to connect with others not only at networking meetings but everywhere.
    Another way to start a convo is also by discussing about the subject of matter at the meeting or environment.
    Cheers.

    • Not sure a man would say “Cute shoes” either, but it was nice that the suggestions weren’t ALL things only a man would say, like most business articles would have confined themselves to. Thanks Ariella — great article.

    • I’m a man and I say “yummy”. Although only when trying to convince my 1yr old to eat his food.

      The article had a few suggestions that were a more suited to how women speak, but in general articles like this help people to think about new ways of start conversations (and keep them flowing) regardless of their gender. And who knows, saying Yummy in the right situation could work.

  18. I liked the article…I would like to make a follow up article for rednecks entitled, “Networking at porta-potties” I’ve meet so many interesting people standing in line for a porta-potty. I find it super easy to meet people that way and break the log..eh I mean ice when you don’t know anybody. Plus the conversation topics are endless, like “How long does this person take?” or “Hey are you going number 1 or number 2?”

  19. Great article. After reading the “nice shoes” comments it brought back a memory from the mid nineties while attending a convention in Chicago. An impeccably dressed gentleman entered the crowded elevator and my friend starts a conversation about his shoes. His comment was something like,” Those are great looking new shoes; Where did you get them?” His reply: These are NOT NEW SHOES. They are Cole Haan shoes and I purchased them eight years ago. Tonight when I retire to my hotel room I will slip them off my feet and insert cedar shoe trees. I will let them rest for two days. This will remove all moisture from the inside of the shoes which will prolong the life of the shoes and also prevent odors. It also preserves the outer leather by preventing lines and cracks. While they are resting I will apply polish, if needed. I use this method with all my shoes. With that he turned and left the elevator. My friend then turned to me and said, “It’s a good thing I didn’t mention anything about that great looking suit he was wearing.”

  20. You need to add the basics of always keeping your right hand available to shake hands. Always keep your food plate and drink in your left hand. Yes, go home and practice, you can hold both in one hand at the same time. You should also keep all of your own business cards in your right hand pocket and NEVER put anyone else’s cards in that pocket. You should be able to just reach in and grab one of your cards, knowing that you’re not giving our someone else’s card. All the cards you receive go into your left hand pocket.

  21. I have to admit it was painful reading this “how to”. I felt like it was written for the guy standing in the corner. It’s the Office Space “birthday cake” scenario on steroids, painfully & obviously awkward. I would be the guy posing questions like, “If I don’t eat anything can I leave?” To the guy hiding in the corner, “If you find the exit before I do let me know?” Or even, “If you promise not to use another stupid line like that with me I will give you any contact info you want. Just please stop.”

  22. I am sure that you have some great tips in your article but I did not get further than the image at the beginning. In this age of diversity and multiculturalism, don’t you think it is prudent to have other nationalities represented in your image? Yes, you have women and men but what about Blacks, Chinese, Asians, Aboriginals, First Nations? I will read your article but I had to stop and think whether or not I was going to because of your choice of image.

    • I am sure your interest in multiculturalism is well intended, however if you go to a networking event and see three white people talking, it would be counter productive to wait until a Black person or Asian person joins them before you do. How would you know if you saw four Asians that they were all Koreans trying to avoid Japanese? That happens often at some mixers for cultural, historical and linguistic reasons. Sometimes you just don’t get any Aboriginal or First Nations at a mixer. The photo was just a photo of people chatting at a mixer. Why try so hard to find “racism where it probably doesn’t exist
      What would you say if a photographer was taking a picture at an event ant the photographer said ” could we get a black and an asian in this picture? Any aboriginals here today?” Dont project your own problems on other people, if that is what you were doing

      • Thank you, my thoughts exactly. The comment was completely left field to the point I re-read the article thinking that I missed some type of “image” being portrayed other than a male or female at a networking event. So sad we turn everything into racism.

        • I agreed with Angeligque B.comments, that is why this entire country will never find peace, harmony, brotherhood, sisterhood, becuase in every situation someone will have to inply racism when it has nothing to do with it. The writer was just giving some sugguestions on how to start a conversation during a networking or any events that will assist an individual to start the conversation. We are all adults lets be more mature and diverse. God bless us all in understanding the meaning of humanity.

    • If you won’t read an article because a lack of minority representation in an image with 4 people in it, then you are the closed-minded one. Didn’t know affirmative action had made its way into clip art images. Next time I go to a networking event and there isn’t an aborigine there, I’ll be sure to leave.

    • Angela – As I read your comment, I am reminded of the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. I seriously doubt that the author took the picture herself and she may not have even had the opportunity to choose the picture that would accompany her article. My ethic background was not represented in the picture, but I don’t care. Instead, I choose to assess the article based on its merits – after I’ve read it – instead of casting preconceived notions at the author. In the future, don’t stop at the cover because you may find an interesting read if you proceed!

    • Very pertinent comment. I am white Caucasian and appreciate the richness of other cultures.
      Implies also a myriad of other approaches.

      But not enough to deter me from reading it.
      It’s the INTENT that counts.

    • It seems that the Trayvon Martin issue has dulled some of our senses. In this case common sense! For instance, one can read the Bible and claim that Jesus was a Black man. However, the Bible is trying to teach a way of Life and it doesn’t matter what color Jesus is/was. I got a lot out of the lessons listed above. I recall being in those awkward situations when I was one of the few Black men at the networking event. I remember how easy some people approached me using these same points. I am glad to know that they can be learned and not just something White people know how to do. We need to STOP THE NONSENSE!!! In other words stop making issues a Black or White thing when it is just a learning curve.

    • It is impossible for every group of 4 people to have a representative distribution of race and gender. To have such concern is more politically awkward than to accept a perfectly ordinary picture of 4 people. Relax!

    • Really lady. You have a problem. You can’t have every race creed and background in the picture. It’s an article. It will look like the Wu Tang Clan. Lol. Get over the multicultural stuff. As long as you are that’s all that matters.

    • Angela, thats like saying “this Pizza smalls and probably tastes delicious but I refuse to have any because the box didnt have any spakles.”

    • You are what is wrong with racism. I did not even notice the color of any of the people and had to go back to look. What a ridiculous comment. You ARE the Racist and have a serious complex. There was nothing about race in any of the article. It is how to talk to people. Did you know white people are people too? Or oh, did you think they are not? Hello, it was just a picture of some people that happen to all be the same color? Get a grip and get some counseling and get over your being the racist.

  23. Great reminders – some are tried and true – others not so much. But a good article to make us think about it before we actually need to do it – find ways to be comfortable with whatever “networking starter” we use and make it our own so that it is natural and genuine.

  24. Complimenting a twenty stone prop forward – linebacker, for you Americans – on his cute taste in shoes would break the ice at any gathering.

  25. Complimenting a seven foot linebacker – I’m British, incidentally – on his cute shoes doesn’t quite do it for me. But I suppose you MIGHT get away with it if you’re a woman.

    • I’m not 20 stones, but I’m a big dude and if someone mentioned my shoes (and meant it) a great conversation would follow. People in nice shoes generally like shoes, so you may be safer than you think! I heard it best like this, “Look for the good in others and tell them what you see.” I believe that quote is attributed to Nancy Donahue.

  26. and this is why most networking events are so bad – everybody asking stupid questions, with the hope that the person being asked is more stupid than the person asking them.
    What do you do? Nice shoes, where did you get them? how long have you been in town?Really?
    My answer to all of these is – NEXT!!!!!!!

    • I agree that some of these suggestions are weak… asking about someone’s food is completely lame unless you’re at a food industry event. But instead of trashing the article, why don’t you offer up some better alternatives of your own? Here are a couple that I find useful (courtesy of coach Bonnie Coffey & Associates):
      ** Tune into the event or activity you’re engaged in. “What about this session caught your attention?” or “You seem to know lots of people here. Tell me about your involvement with the group.” The immediacy of these questions is energizing.
      ** Explore origins and beginnings. “How did you first get started in this?” “How did that begin?” “How did you become interested in this?” “When was the first moment realized you wanted to have your own business (or be in sales or wanted to do international work)?”

      And to keep the conversation going:
      ** Take clichés seriously. If someone says, “Oh, I’ve been really busy,” ask, “What have you been busy doing?” If somebody says, “I’m really tired,” ask, “Is this an especially busy time of year for you?”
      ** Ask about the person’s agenda. One of my personal favorite questions is, “What have you been working on lately?”

    • I am sure your interest in multiculturalism is well intended, however if you go to a networking event and see three white people talking, it would be counter productive to wait until a Black person or Asian person joins them before you do. How would you know if you saw four Asians that they were all Koreans trying to avoid Japanese? That happens often at some mixers for cultural, historical and linguistic reasons. Sometimes you just don’t get any Aboriginal or First Nations at a mixer. The photo was just a photo of people chatting at a mixer. Why try so hard to find “racism where it probably doesn’t exist
      What would you say if a photographer was taking a picture at an event ant the photographer said ” could we get a black and an asian in this picture? Any aboriginals here today?” Dont project your own problems on other people, if that is what you were doing

  27. Attending an event evokes anxiety in most of us and this article has some great tips– especially “Just Say Hello”. Three additional ideas to help strike up an “everyday” type conversation before you walk in the door: 1. As you walk down the hallway to the event, or take the elevator to the event room, you can be pretty sure all the people heading in the same direction are also attending. A simple Hi. attending tonight’s event makes a natural connection. 2. Take an extra few seconds at the regisration table; scan the name tags for familiar names and then look to your left and right and say hello to the person next to you as he or she find their name tag. 3. Seek one of the event organizers and let them know why you are enjoying the event. If it is an organization that interests you; ask about future meetings, about the benefits of joining and what got them involved. Most association events are run by volunteers — professionals just like you–who are happy to talk about the group and introduce you to other attendees, and in the case of one of my clients after their conversation –walked him over and made a personal introduction to the speaker. To learn more about becoming an authentic networker, the book; The Power of Everday Networking available through Amazon and iTunes may be of interest.

  28. Great article! Love the pointers in conversation starters and exit. I am sure many will benefit from this. Kepp it up!

  29. Sounds great! I believe the easiest way to start is to say hello!
    Once greet a or persons relax and let them share with you! I
    know we work to hard at these events! Happy networking

    Pastor Elbrist Mason

  30. Ariella,, I really enjoyed reading this article regarding networking. The points that you have identified all hit a cord and I can honestly say, as a keen networker myself, I still come across. thank you for Sharing your thoughts and Teddy, I will be reading the book.

  31. Good article Ariella.

    I really like that you address how to keep the conversation going. There are lots of ice breaker questions, statements or even jokes, however most people who don’t network very well struggle with keeping the conversation going.

    As you mentioned, strive to make the conversation all about the other person. I love to ask simple, even humorous questions.

    Another idea is once you wrap up your conversation, introduce your new contact to someone they have not met yet. During the handoff to the new person ask for their business card so that you can connect with them on LinkedIn and contact them for a one-on-one conversation later on. This shows that you care enough to help them. This is a great relationship building idea.

    Read the book, Networking for Mutual Benefit on Kindle & Nook – it will help you as well with Networking ideas.

    Thanks Ariella

    • WOW.
      Certainly no shortage of opinions, really?
      I would think someone proposing a simple guideline suggesting possible opening lines understandably
      in mixed company of strangers, whether, M/F, ethnicity wise, and all other factors considered under the “diversity umbrella”,
      would not elicit so much personal critique thru everyones “personal filtration”!!

      How about this concept……………….Take the suggestions for what they are worth, simply some ways to make
      a potentially awkward situation into an easier way to transition into a 2 way personal interaction with someone you don’t know.

      That may be too simple for some whose only (quote) “human interaction” has been lost to the current trend of texting, emailing,
      and blogging in anonymity instead of real human conversation with another human being with what GOD gave all of us
      naturally, a mouth and a voice to speak with . You can go ahead now and critique my opinion, I know you will anyway!!

      Let’s not forget…………… Opinions are like A – - Holes, everybody’s got one……………………right? Thanks for listening :)

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