One of the hardest things that I find about walking into a networking event or a business meeting is that usually you don’t know many people there.
Here are my top 5 conversation starters:
1. Look like you want to start a conversation! When you walk into a room full of unfamiliar faces and you’re feeling a bit vulnerable and uncomfortable, it’s very easy to pull out your phone and start looking at your emails (or at least pretending to look at your emails). This is sending a clear sign to everyone that you aren’t interested in speaking and would prefer to be left alone. Put your phone away and don’t shy away from eye-contact.
2. Look for situations to create conversations. Often when you walk into a business networking event, everyone already seems to be engrossed in conversations, small groups have formed and everyone’s back seems to be towards you. Head to the bar or the buffet – try and connect with other people waiting to get a drink or food, it’s at a point when people are in transition from one conversation to the next so it’s a good opportunity to connect with them.
3. Try being up-front and honest. It’s okay to introduce yourself and say “Hi there, I don’t really know many people here – can I join your conversation?” Everyone is there to network, no one is going to say “No”, they’ll respond positively to your initiative.
4. Ask open-ended questions. You’ll get more value out of your conversations if you create opportunities for the discussion to flow – closed questions can be answered with a simple yes or no: “Is this your first time at this event?”; “Is this venue close to your office?” “That’s a nice jacket – is red your favorite colour?” Examples of good open-ended questions include: “Tell me why you’ve chosen to attend this networking event?” or “Where are you planning on spending your summer holidays?” require the person you’re speaking with to invest a bit more energy in their response and share more information with you.
5. Be a good listener. Try and avoid talking too much about yourself, listen attentively to what the person you are speaking with is saying – ask follow up questions, use body language that demonstrates that you’re interested in what they’re saying. You’re there to connect with other people and learn about them. You already know all about you.
Getting the most out of networking events will always be a bit daunting and a bit of a challenge, but with a few of these solid conversation starter techniques you’ll at least feel a bit more confident when you enter the room.