If you’re a bit of an introvert, meeting new people can be terrifying – especially if taking the lead doesn’t come naturally. Having a few easy conversation starters up your sleeve can help break the ice and kick-start the conversation. This is perfect for building your professional network.
You don’t need to be the most confident person in the world to use these. Small talk can lead to big connections and give you an edge at every networking event. We’ve pulled together 7 awesome conversation starters for you to use so you can spend less time hovering on the sidelines – and more time getting down to business.
There’s an old saying that ‘flattery will get you everywhere’ and it’s true. Of course, there is a fine line between flattery and flirtation – which you definitely don’t want to cross. However, being able to provide positive input will cast you in a favourable light, which is the aim of the game.
Compliments don’t necessarily have to be about someone’s appearance. In fact, they rarely ever should be about this. A woman complimenting another woman’s dress won’t typically raise eyebrows. However, a man doing this could be taken the wrong way.
Stick to complimenting the different aspects of the event or the known successes the attendees have made in their industry. Some great examples could include:
‘The buffet here is amazing. They’ve really gone all out this year’ or ‘Congratulations with your latest *achievement* you really have done an amazing job”
More often than not, this is enough to fan the flames of an ongoing conversation. It’s all about being upbeat, confident and starting with a subject that is neutral ground to everyone.
People are only strangers until you learn something personal about them. We’re not saying you need to go blazing in asking people about their relationships, personal struggles or family life – more along the lines of hobbies, destinations and sports.
It’s all about finding common ground between the two of you. While you may be passionate about politics, religion or cultural beliefs, these are topics best left at home.
One of the best ways to use this approach is to be the first one to reveal something personal. You could start with your name, your age, where you live and one or two hobbies you have.
The key to success with this one lays in your ability to appreciate what your conversation partner responds with. You may not be a huge fan of golf or cooking, but asking them more about how they got into it and why they enjoy it can help keep things flowing.
The great thing about hypothetical questions is that they don’t have to be work-related. One of the most popular hypothetical questions people ask is “If you had the power to correct one problem in the world, what would you fix?” It might sound cliche, but it almost always results in deep discussions.
Another benefit of hypotheticals is that they give you more of an insight into the people answering them. When it comes to networking, one thing people love is to talk about themselves. This gives way for another fantastic opportunity to hypothesize about where they see themselves in five years’ time or the changes they wish to see in their industry.
Some great questions to use could include:
Keep the questions lighthearted and fun – and make sure you follow up with why you think their answers are great. This is perfect if you’re meeting a group of new people and looking for a way to engage them without focussing on work.
As we mentioned earlier, people love to talk about themselves and their experiences. If there’s an industry expert in the room, you’ll know about it. So what better way to kick start a conversation than asking someone for help or advice?
The trick here is to already have a good idea about who people are and what they specialise in. Doing a little bit of background research can go a long way and makes it easy to know who to zone in on.
As an example, let’s say that you’re a social media marketing manager. You could start the conversation with ‘you’ve done an amazing job with building *brand* on social media. I’d love to hear your take on how to reach more people’
When they answer your question, follow this up with another question. Of course, you don’t want to spend an hour talking shop when you need to mingle – but letting others talk about their strengths and offer some solid advice can give you a humble edge.
If the networking event is industry-specific, you are going to find this super easy. However, if there’s a mix of different industries, roles and experiences you’ll need to try to find some common ground.
Luckily, most industries have similar layouts. You could be in banking while others are in the medical or hospitality industries – what similarities can you think of? Dealing with people? Attention to detail? Responsibilities? You only need to find one area of common ground to get your foot in the door.
If you can’t find anything in common with your chat partner, you could fall back on the hypothetical questions section. However, instead of general, go specific and reversed. Ask them ‘if I was working in your possession, what three things do you think I would struggle with most?’
This gives them the opportunity to lift the lid on the struggles they face by using you as a mask. In turn, their answers will likely reveal something you can relate to – and common ground is found.
Sometimes, the best way to break the ice is to simply introduce yourself. While you may not be the best conversationalist, you can almost guarantee that others will be more than happy to ask you questions.
Hi, I’m *name*. I work for *business* in the *department*. How are you enjoying your evening?
When your partner introduces themselves, you’ll discover their name, industry and position – the perfect way to ask more questions. If their industry is something you’re already familiar with, ask them more about how they see it’s current standing in the marketplace. If it’s something you’re not familiar with, don’t be afraid to ask them what it entails.
At the end of the day, every conversation starts with hello. You don’t need to rely on wit, charm or humour – just be you.
Using the same old questions and introductions can quickly get stale. Luckily, there’s always something happening somewhere in the world that’s conversation-worthy. Before heading into the networking event, check out the latest headlines and industry-related news on your mobile phone.
There are two things people are always happy to talk about – the news and the weather. Again, as we mentioned earlier it’s always best to avoid politics and religion. But everything else is fair game.
If the stock markets are falling, it gives you an ideal opportunity to ask others how they feel it will impact their industry. Where possible, always try to use open-ended questions. These are the diamonds of the conversation world. If talking about the weather, you can mention how it reminds you of a favourite destination. This will usually result in a response of their favourite destination and the chat is fast-tracked from slow to go.
Conversation starters can help you come across as confident, upbeat and professional, even if you aren’t. Why not give these tips and tricks a try at your next networking event and spark up the convo with potential clients and allies in the industry.
If you’re looking to plan or host your very own networking event, check out what we have to offer or contact us today. With a variety of venues perfect for meetings, conferences and events located in major business hubs across Australia, putting on a memorable event is made easy.
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