Networking event, business mixer, after party…whatever you want to call it, these kinds of small-talk heavy events can be the bane of many people’s existence.
That goes double if you are on the introverted side. We need to make conversation at these events, but how do you even start a conversation at a business networking event?
Some will tell you to NEVER start by asking someone what they do…is this good advice? Should Happily, there are lots of strategies to start and sustain a conversation even if you aren’t the chattiest or most outgoing person alive. So slap on that name tag, grab a plate of hors d’oeuvres, and let’s get networking!
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Hello and welcome back to Communicaiton Q&A! Today’s question, coming to us from Leticia, will interest anyone who goes to networking events. Leticia asks
“Dear Lauren, I work in local government and I have to attend a lot of networking events. Here’s the problem – I hate networking! I’m an introvert and I’m not comfortable going up to random strangers and starting conversations. I’ve heard that I should never start a conversation by asking people what they “do”. But besides telling people what I do and asking them what they do in return, I never know what to say. What are some ways I can make starting conversations with strangers a bit easier?
Thank you so much for this question, Leticia, because I know that it’s one on a LOT of people’s minds!
First of all, I completely understand where you’re coming from – even though I love speaking to big audiences, parties and networking events can really make me nervous. I’m a pretty talkative person, but it can be tough to think of interesting things to say to people you’ve never met. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that anyone – even introverts like you – can use to make networking a more enjoyable experience.
It’s true that you don’t want to default to talking about the weather or the local sports team. But the advice that you should never tell people what your job is or ask them about what they do is nonsense. Part of meeting people is learning about them, and as most networking events are related to work or business, learning about each other’s jobs will help both you and the person you’re meeting relate to one another more quickly. Even though we aren’t defined by our jobs, we can learn a lot about one another by sharing what those jobs are, so by all means – ask that person what it is they do.
Once you’ve broken the ice through the typical job title swap, it’s time to move on to more interesting territory. But you don’t have to be the most inventive conversationalist in the world to chat with someone. There’s nothing wrong with going for popular topics as a way of easing in to a conversation, so spend some time reading up on topics that are likely to be of interest to people attending the event. General interest subjects and current affairs in news, culture, and the economy are always good bets – just wade in with an open mind. Plus, try to learn a bit about the current concerns that are particular to whatever industry might be represented by the people at this event. So if I was going to an networking evening for event planners, I’d be looking up news coming from the event planning industry; If I was going to a small business networking event, I’d look up topics affecting small businesses and home based businesses, and so on.
The goal with reading up on these topics isn’t so that you can be an expert on them and speak about them at length. It’s really to learn just enough about them so that you can ask other people what THEY think about these different topics.
Asking lots of questions is my number one favorite way to foster great conversations. People LOVE being asked their opinion and they’ll usually grab the chance to weigh in on whatever topic you bring up. Once they’ve given you an opinion or have answered your question, dig a little deeper – ask them WHY they thing that way or how they came to have that view. From here, you can respond as you see fit, and the conversation will naturally evolve.
Driving conversations by asking the other person lots of questions does two really great things: first up, it’s going to make you come across as very likable, as people enjoy being able to talk about themselves and will perceive you as a good listener (provided you actually pay attention to what they’re saying).
Second, it helps take some of the pressure off of you to be always thinking of something to say! Ask a question, then stand back and let the other person do the talking. Then ask another question and rinse and repeat. This is an especially good strategy for people who are introverted.
If you go into the event with the mindset of being open, curious, and interested about learning other people’s opinions, you’ll be able to enjoy the experience as well.
Take these strategies into your next networking event, Leticia, and you’ll have a less stressful and more enjoyable experience.
And if you want more strategies on how to prepare for networking events, check out this video right here – I’ve also posted a link to it in the description.
Now it’s over to you – what are your favorite strategies or topics for conversation at networking events? Share your comments down below.
If this video has given you ideas for how to prepare for your next networking event, please click that like button, subscribe to my channel and click the bell for notifications of all my upcoming videos. And while you’re at it, visit me at laurensergy.com and sign up to get more great communication tips sent straight to your inbox.
Thanks for joining me here today, and I look forward to seeing you on the next Communication Q&A!