If your go-to conversation topics revolve around work and weather, then you probably don’t enjoy going to networking events.
But talking to new people does not have to be such a drag.
There are ways to get the conversation going without resorting to irritating clichés.
Check out these 19 icebreakers that will help ease you into an engaging conversation with people you have never met before.
A smile, a name, and a confident handshake can sometimes go a long way, says Ariella Coombs, content manager for Careerealism.com: “Sometimes, the easiest way to meet someone is to offer a handshake and say, ‘Hi, I”m Peter.’”
“Are you originally from [whatever city the event is in], or did your business bring you here?”
This question will help you jump-start an engaging conversation with ease because “it doesn’t feel like you are asking for a stiff elevator speech,” Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, tells U.S. News & World Report.
The conversation will allow both parties to talk about themselves, which is the ultimate goal of career-savvy people attending a networking event, Gottsman says.
“What motivated you to come to this event?”
Rather than asking the classics like “What’s your name?” or “What do you do?” Darrah Brustein of Network Under 40/Finance Whiz Kids tells Inc. that she likes to ask what motivated an attendee to attend the event.
The answer to this question will give you insight into your conversation partner’s career goals, and you may even find that you can help them to achieve those goals, Brustein says.
“Hmm, I’m not quite sure what that dish is. Do you know?”
Rather than silently standing in line for food, take the opportunity to start a conversation about the topic on everyone’s mind: food.
Ask about the dish they think looks good or the mystery dish, Coombs writes on Careerealism.com: “Who knows, you might leave the buffet with a better plate of food AND a new contact!”
“I overheard you talking about volunteer work — what kind of work do you do?”
Asking people about their volunteer work will open up “a world of wonderful conversation,” writes strategy consultant Alice Korngold on Fast Company.
Korngold says that she especially enjoys meeting people who work on nonprofit boards because she gets to learn about how an organization was founded, how the person got involved with it, and about the “fascinating group dynamics of boards.”
“These networking events can be so crazy. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?”
Find someone on the outskirts of the ongoing conversations and introduce yourself, says Coombs.
Since they are alone and possibly looking miserable, they are probably uncomfortable with the social situation, Coombs says. By initiating the interaction, you can help to put them at ease and get them in the flow of a conversation.
If you genuinely like something someone is wearing, compliment them — without being inappropriate — Michelle Tillis Lederman, CEO of the professional-development firm Executive Essentials, tells U.S. News & World Report.
Not only will they be flattered, but you can also ask a follow-up question about where they got the item that could lead to a fun conversation. One caveat: Don’t fake it, Lederman warns. People can easily sniff out disingenuousness.
“I’ll be honest, the only person I know here is the bartender, and I just met him two minutes ago. Mind if I introduce myself?”
While a networking event is not the best place to try out your latest comedic routine, The Daily Muse says that humor is a good method to put another attendee at ease and jump-start a lighthearted conversation.
“Would you have any insight or advice on … ?”
Letting people use their expertise to help you will make them feel good and be more open to connecting with you, Lederman tells CareerBliss.
You can ask about anything from a work project to their opinion on which new car you should buy. But just be sure to genuinely listen and reflect on their advice, Lederman says. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
“What did you think of the speaker?”
Conversations flow around common experiences, so bring up the one thing you know you both have in common: What’s going on around you, Lederman tells U.S. News & World Report.
Asking about the speaker, the group discussion, or even the restaurants around the area will give you both a chance to contribute to the conversation, Lederman says.
“I’ve never been to this event before. You look like a regular — any tips you could give me on what to expect? What are the best sessions here?”
If you’re attending a conference for the first time, look for someone who looks like a “regular” and ask them for the scoop on the event, suggests Jessica Taylor of The Daily Muse.
“Did you hear about [insert big news event]?”
Be sure to scan the headlines the day of the networking event so you can ask for opinions on it, especially if it affects someone’s line of work, says Meredith Lepore, editor at large for Levo League.
This topic will get a discussion going, and it will show that you keep up-to-date with current events. That’s a win-win, Lepore says.
“Has anyone here seen [a new popular show] on Netflix/HBO/etc.?”
If you want to talk about current events, but prefer to keep the conversation lighter, you could ask if anyone has seen the new show everyone is talking about. It’s a fun and easy way to connect.
“Is this your first time at this event? I know they have one every year, but I’ve never been before!”
If this is an annual or monthly event, ask someone if they’ve been before. This can lead to a bigger conversation about why they decided to come this time (or return, if they’re not a newbie).
“Did you catch the game yesterday?”
Many people love to talk about sports.
If you spy a Red Sox cap in the crowd, go up to the person and say, “Red Sox fan, huh? Did you catch the game yesterday?” writes Coombs on Careerealism.com.
Or if you are a sports fan and overhear a sports conversation, step in and say, “Are you talking about … ?” and voice your own opinion on the big game.
“The drinks are great/food smells amazing/music is fantastic!”
Comment on the food, wine selection, playlist, venue, or view. But be positive. Don’t complain about the music being too loud or the food being soggy. You never know if the person you’re talking to played a part in planning the event — and insulting them would be a pretty awful way to start any conversation.
“What do you do for fun when you’re not working?”
Asking personal questions about people’s activities outside of work can help solidify a connection, Shan White, owner of Women’s Peak Performance Coaching, tells Refinery29.
Asking about someone’s after-work hobbies is “semi-personal, yet still professionally acceptable to ask,” she says.
“This can bring some levity and humor into the conversation while also letting you see what lights them up, what brings them real joy,” White says.
“Hey, aren’t you friends with [fill in random name]?”
If you are desperate for a conversation starter, you can walk up to anyone and ask if they are friends with someone else who is at the event, writes Jessica Gordon of The Muse.
If they say no, feign a mild surprised reaction and conversation will commence.
“Well, you guys look like you’re having fun!”
If all else fails, try something totally random that just might work, writes The Muse, like inserting yourself into an engaging conversation by commenting on how fun their group looks from the outside.
– By Natalie Walters