If you don’t know what to say at a networking event, it can be hard to work up the courage to make connections. Don’t be fooled by the confidence of other professionals; at one point, they had just as much trouble breaking the ice.
Arm yourself with a few conversation starters and step into the event, looking for the chance to make a few friends.
Walk up to other professionals and say hello. It sounds simple, but it really is the easiest way to start a conversation. Have a good handshake and a confident smile. Start with “Hi! I’m …” and give the other person a chance to engage.
Tip: Take time to come up with a short 30-second description of yourself, your business, and your mission.
85% of professionals say they develop a more meaningful relationship after meeting someone in-person.
You should have a few lines prepared to answer the inevitable “So what do you do?” Pack in the necessary information, but don’t take too long to respond. Leave room for the other person to ask about the details that interest them.
Some professionals like to trade business cards right away, while others trade them after a successful conversation. Consider using your business card to introduce your company or profession. You’ve already made a personal connection at this point, and your partner can look at the card while you explain what your company does and the services you offer.
Ask the Right Questions
You can start a conversation by asking a question with room for a response. Simple questions like “Are you enjoying yourself?” break the ice but don’t encourage the discussion to continue. Instead, try a few of these networking conversation tips:
- “What company do you work for? How do you like it?” Invite them to open up about their career and reasons for attending the event. Ask follow-up questions about the areas they seem excited about.
- “Have you been to an event like this before?” This question prompts the other party to talk about their past experiences, either at the current event or at others.
- “Do you have any advice for someone new to these things?” Admit that you’re inexperienced and let the other person clue you in on their networking approach.
- “What did you think of the presenter?” Conferences are full of panels, displays, and presentations, all of which are great conversational material.
- “Do you know anywhere to get lunch around here?” If you really don’t know where to start, ask them about food. It’s a quick way to get someone to open up, and you might even hear about an amazing new restaurant.
Find Common Interests
The point of a networking event is to turn strangers into business contacts. You might be surprised at how much you have in common with the other professionals in the room.
Talk about the presenter, the purpose of the event, or your shared industry. Build the conversation off of topics that engage the other person; if they seem bored by the presenter but happy to talk about the local market, run with it. Don’t let a conversation stall out because you feel stuck to a script.
If you’re at a multi-industry event, you might be tempted to only talk to potential clients. Branch out and communicate with other members of your profession as well. You could find job opportunities or potential business partners. You also might get a few referrals; if a fellow freelancer doesn’t have the niche skills a client needs, they’ll be happy to send them your way.
Use the things you have in common to highlight features that are unique or interesting about the other person. Show engagement with the accomplishments and goals that they feel like sharing. Sometimes your greatest common feature is a shared love for the craft.
Invite Someone to Walk with You
Walking and talking can forge an instant connection. Invite a new friend to join you on the way to the next panel or the snack table. This can be a great way to continue an existing conversation without missing the next stage of the conference.
You can also use this approach to draw a wallflower into the event. Some professionals don’t know what to say at a networking event, either; if you notice someone trying and failing to make a connection, invite them to accompany you for a short while. The confidence boost will help them mingle with others after you reach your destination.
Plan to Reconnect
As you’re wrapping up your conversation, suggest continuing it in the future. Conferences are large, and you probably won’t see each other again at the same event.
Don’t forget to mention why you want to reconnect. You might be interested in their product, want advice on getting a job at their company in the future, or feel that your services would be an excellent match for the project they are working on. Leave the other person with a relevant reason to remember you.
There’s one essential but often-forgotten step to any networking event: you need to follow up! Place that pocketful of business cards on your desk where you know you’ll see them. Send out emails to everyone you had a connection with. Mention a few points to help them remember who you are. Finish with an offer to catch lunch or work together in the future.
What’s your routine after attending a networking event or meal? If your answer is, ‘I go home,’ you’re probably going to miss out on opportunities. – Lewis Howes
Networking events are just the start of a more extended conversation and business relationship. Be confident in your personality and the services you offer, and you’ll quickly find other professionals that you mesh with.
What’s your conversation starter? We would love to hear it! Post it below.
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