Networking: Conversation Starters

 

By Sharman J. Monroe, Esq.

“So, what do you do?”

UGH. 

Worst conversation starter EVER! 

Why? Think back to the last time someone asked you that. How did you feel? Did you feel defensive, as if you had to prove you were worthy to be in the room? Or did you fumble to get your elevator speech together in your head? These responses invoke pain; they don’t feel good. Indeed, you may feel off-kilter for the rest of the networking event.

The purpose of the conversation starter is to break the ice between you and a stranger. The purpose is to get the other person talking so you can begin learning who the other person is apart from their work. In this article, I will give you several great conversation starters that will help the other person feel comfortable with you and leave you feeling like the strong, confident woman you are. 

Now, I know introverts struggle with a conversation starter more than extroverts, and that’s okay. These starters can be successfully used by either personality, and they can be used whether in person or online. 

 

  1. What are you doing now that you’re very excited about? This is my favorite. People love talking about something exciting; they will talk for days. 
  2. I hear an accent. Where are you originally from? Why did you move here? My go-to when I hear an accent which can be quite often in the DMV.
  3. What was the last movie you saw? Maybe you’ll find out you and the person have the same interests, which breaks the ice and will help your conversation sail along. The last time I asked this question, the gentleman told me about “The Crown” on Netflix about England’s Royal Family. He loved that as the characters got older, they didn’t age the actors with make-up, they changed the actors. Needless to say, I started watching it and got hooked. Because this happened one month before the COVID lockdown, I wasn’t able to have a follow-up conversation with him about “The Crown.”
  4. How did you find out about this event? 
  5. How do you know (host, hostess)?
  6. What brought you here today?
  7. What did you do fascinating last weekend?
  8. Compliment the other person.
  9. I’m nervous about/not comfortable with this networking thing. Do you have a networking tip? Often when you tell people your fears, they readily swoop in to help.

Bear in mind that sometimes, no matter what you say, some people are just not open to a conversation . . . although they are at a networking event! Once a guy from an online networking event scheduled a Zoom to see if and how we could work together. No matter how much I opened up and what I asked him, his answers were either one word or very cryptic. Question: “How did you find out about event X?” Answer: “Online search.” Question: “What did you do fascinating last weekend?” Answer: “Nothing.” Yes, the conversation was painful and ended sooner rather than later. 

Of course, as the conversation progresses, you’ll introduce yourself (“This conversation was going so well, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is_____ and you are?”) and eventually ask the person what they do (you are there to network, find clients or referrals or resources for your business), but that awkwardness of “so, what do you do” won’t be there.

If you have a conversation starter that you like, please share it with us.

In the next article, I’ll be talking about what to do with all those business cards.

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