12 Great Ways to Start a Networking Conversation

Have you been to networking events but felt tongue-tied, not knowing what to say? Or worse, have you been avoiding such events for the same reason? You are not alone! I’ve been there…and probably half the people at any networking function are feeling the same way.

The best solution, and what I recommend to my clients, is to plan ahead. Come up with 4 or 5 questions you can use. The best ones will be open-ended, meaning they require more than a “yes” or “no” answer, which are closed-ended. You can use closed-ended questions, but be prepared with a follow up to keep the other person talking.

Write your prepared questions down on an index card that you can stick in your pocket/purse. Alternatively, have them as notes in your phone. Either way, refer to them if you get flustered and forget. Remember, the goal is to get a conversation rolling.

Once you ask your question, focus on really listening to the answer instead of planning your next question! Let the natural flow of the conversation guide you, as much as possible.

To make it easier for you, I’ve gathered twelve suggestions for great conversation starters. All you have to do is select the ones you like the best!

  • “How’d you hear about this event?”, or “So, what brought you here today?”
  • “What do you think about [insert topic germane to the event or person here]?”
  • “So, what do you do?” (An old, but reliable, staple.) However, during downturns in the market when many people are out of work, it’s best to select one of the other questions to avoid awkwardness.
  • “What do you find most interesting about the work you do?” If they say “Nothing!” or words to that effect, you can follow up with:
  • “What would you really love to do?” Who knows, maybe you might have a lead for them. Then you’d really be golden in their eyes!
  • “What do you do outside of work?”, or “What do you do for fun?”
  • If food is being served, you can say: “I can’t stop eating these mini crab cakes! Have you tried them?”
  • Hi, I see that you work at XYZ Company. I’ve always been interested in their work, and recently saw a position open up that I’m thinking about applying to. Do you have any advice for me? What’s it like working there?
  • “When you were growing up, what was your dream job? Is any part of that still true?”
  • “What was the highlight of your day today?”, or “Who was your favorite speaker? What was the best thing about their talk, in your opinion?”
  • “I’m looking for help with [insert area of help needed]. Do you have any experience in that area or words of advice you could share?” You could always follow up by asking for a reference or referral that they recommend.
  • Where would you live if you could live anywhere?

Any one of these suggested questions can get the ball rolling at networking events or other social situations. Remember that many others in the room are probably as nervous as you are. Focus on asking questions that will put them at ease and let them open up.

When you get people talking about themselves, you become memorable as a great conversationalist and a safe person. This will have the added advantage of taking the focus off you, allowing you to relax and enjoy meeting a possible new friend or mutually beneficial business contact.

So, do any of these ideas resonate with you? Which ones can you see yourself using? What other questions have worked for you? Please share. I’d love to hear your comments.

Terry Suffredini is a Career Mentor (and engineer:-)) who specializes in helping women in male-dominated fields who feel stuck and/or under-utilized. If this sounds like you, click here to schedule a complimentary 30-minute “Rapid Career Success” coaching session.

In this session, Terry will help you:
1) develop a crystal clear vision for your future
2) uncover hidden challenges that might be getting in your way
3) leave renewed and inspired to achieve your goals!