Six Easy Networking Conversation Starters

Handshake“What’s your name?”

I hear this every time I see my little neighbor, Hayden.  He is a curious, spirited and a great three year old helper.  He has been my little buddy for over a year, almost two.

He has assigned himself jobs at my house.  He fills the bird feeder, checks on my garden and lets me know when I need to refill the fountain in front of the house.

When he hears me in the backyard, he climbs on the bench on his deck (much to the chagrin of his mother) to peek over the fence and calls out, “Lisa, what are you doing?”

When he hears my car coming or going and he is in his garage, he runs out to wave hello and ask where I am going or what I am doing.  We throw balls back and forth over the fence, blow bubbles and look at the flowers in the yard together.  We play catch, sort of and he has races in my driveway.

Yet he keeps asking me my name.  Almost every single time I see him.  I took one of the boys out on a walk yesterday and he was waiting at the bottom of his drive on his bike.  What was the first thing he said?

“What’s your name?”

I looked up at his mom, bless her heart, and she was looking skyward shaking her head with complete exacerbation.   So I answered as any responsible adult would,

“Seriously, kid?”

In three year old fashion he just replied, “Oh, what are you doing?”

I thought I was bad at remembering names!  In the first month of asking me my name, his mom told me he knows my name, he just asks everyone.  It is like his little icebreaker or conversation starter.  Ok, to each their own.

I will give the little guy credit, he definitely starts a conversation.  Once he asks and you respond he has the green light to talk away.  About anything, what you are doing, what he is doing, about his pajamas.  It doesn’t matter, once he engages you, he’s got you.  He also happens to be incredibly cute.

I suppose when networking going up to each person and asking, “What is your name” is one way to start a conversation; although it might be a little awkward, especially if you are all wearing name tags.

Here are a six alternative icebreakers to start a conversation at networking events.

The Classic

“Hi, I’m Lisa.”  Simple, easy and sure to put someone more network shy at ease by you starting the conversation by introducing yourself.

The Compliment

“Great shoes!”  Give a genuine compliment to someone.  It breaks the monotony of “what do you do” as a conversation starter and you just might find some common interest that will shift  into a great conversation.

The Food Critique

“Do you think it is a requirement for all networking events to have chicken?”  Any comment on the food (although I would suggest you refrain from commenting that a particular food is terrible when the other person has it piled high on their mini-plate) is a great starter.  You can always it lead into a conversation about other networking events or groups that you belong to or have recently attended.

The Anti-Networker

Spy someone in the corner looking miserable, uncomfortable or though they are trying to blend into the corner?  Try empathizing by saying similar to, “Sometimes these things can be a little overwhelming, mind if I stand with you?”  This may be their first event or maybe they just got overwhelmed, self-conscious or fearful.  They may be thankful for an empathetic new friend to help ease them ease into the event.

The Long and Winding Road

“Did you have any trouble getting here?” In Indianapolis, we seem to always have construction on our roads.  Odds are between construction and some sort of traffic there might have been a hiccup in getting to the event. You can use this to lead into what side of town they came from, i.e. where their office is located, their company and what they do.

The Sports Page

“How about them Colts?” It is football season.  That is no small statement here in Indy.  We bleed blue.  Try opening a conversation about the most recent game, had they seen it, are they a Colts fan – anything about the local team.  Word of caution – stay away from opening with the negative news in the sports world.

Networking events are first and foremost about business.  Starting a conversation about the negative and very sensitive sporting news is risky.  It can make either party uncomfortable and possibly put you at odds with someone you do not even know right off the bat.

Networking events are also fun.  Try mixing up your openings with some of the above to have more relaxed conversations and enjoy yourself.  Make a game of it.

At one event and met two gentlemen; the first asked me for my card, the other simply said, “Give me your card.”

I made some comment about cutting to the chase; we decided to make a game of it.  As we met others that night each continued their card requests and we compared how many each collected and noted that no one (except me) said anything about the card demand.  That was almost four years ago and I still talk to those two guys to this day.

What are some ways that you start a conversation at networking events?

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer

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