Have you ever been to a networking function and struggled to start or keep a conversation going?
As children we are taught not to talk to strangers, as adults we are expected to. As business owners, being able to talk to strangers is one of the most important skills in networking. Yet, this is not something we are taught to do.
In this article, I will share with you some ways to start and continue conversations when networking.
But first, here are some rules.
- Firstly, always remember that people love to talk about themselves. So, it is always easiest to ask questions. Not only will it get the conversation started, it will also show that you are interested in them.
- Secondly, always ask open-ended questions. A conversation will not flow with yes or no responses.
- Thirdly, use the answers to the open-ended question to find a new open-ended question. This will further show your interest, and keep the conversation flowing.
With these three rules in mind, here are six topics you can use at networking events to start a conversation.
1. The Event
If you are at a networking event, the easiest conversation starter is to ask, “What brings you to this event?” This will set the scene for you and generally the person will respond by telling you what they do for a living, the company they work for or how they are connected to the networking event. From here, you’ve got potentially three new topics you can ask questions about.
(Note: From here on in, the words in bold indicate new topics you can ask an open-ended question about.)
Question: What brings you to this event?
Answer: I am a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and the topic of this presentation really interested me.
2. The Speaker
If you are at an event with a speaker, use the presentation as a conversation starter.
Question: What did you think that of the presentation?
Answer: I thought it was good, but I didn’t agree with what they said about Gen Y’s being lazy.
3. The Venue
If you are at a notable location, you can ask them what they think of the venue.
Question: Have you been to any other functions here before?
Answer: Yeah, I came to a seminar here about a year ago.
4. The Business Card
If you have exchanged business cards, this is a great opportunity to comment on and/or ask questions about their card.
Question: This is a great looking card, who designed this for you?
Answer: Oh, thanks! I use a local graphic designer who designs all our marketing materials.
5. The ‘How’s Business?’
This is one of the most common and easiest conversation starters. It is so open-ended that the conversation can be lead in a number of different directions.
Question: How’s Business?
Answer: Over the past couple of weeks it has been a bit slow, but things seem to be picking up now that Christmas is approaching. This is usually our busiest time of the year.
6. The Weather
When nothing else springs to mind, the weather is always a great topic that should NEVER be discounted or forgotten. Commenting on the weather or asking a weather-related question is a great way to find new conversation topics. Generally when you comment on the weather, people will tell you a story about how it affected an activity they had planned for their weekend. Once you’ve heard their story, you will no doubt have multiple new topics that you can ask questions about.
Question: Did you get the massive storm on the weekend?
Answer: Sure did! I was down the coast surfing and as the storm rolled in, it looked like the scene from Independence Day, where the space ship enters the earth’s atmosphere. It was so surreal!
For those BNI members, you can also use these conversation starters during your Dancecards. Alternatively, BNI recommends you use a system called GAINS. GAINS is an acronym that stands for:
By using these topics as a guide for your Dancecard, you will have no trouble keeping the conversation flowing!
Do you have a set of questions in your arsenal that you use when networking? We’d love to hear them! Please feel free to share by leaving a comment below.