Says filmmaker Monroe Mann, “True networking does not mean meeting people; it means becoming the type of person other people want to meet.” It is not so much about getting people to like us. It is more about engaging people in generous conversations and getting them interested. Of course, that is easy to do with people with whom we share a rapport. But, in a networking situation, we’re mostly interacting with strangers. How do we just walk up to someone and talk?

We’re here to help. Let’s look at different conversation starters you can use:

The basics. These are open-ended, time-tested questions, yielding responses which will tell you about someone’s interest in the networking event. It’s the best common ground you have at that moment.

  • What brings you to this event today?” Through this question you can learn about the person’s work, and which part of their work relates to the event at hand.
  • What did you enjoy about this experience?” Another way to frame this – “Is there any particular learning that stands out for you?” This gives you an insight into what their thoughts are about the event, and you get to share the same. Going with the flow of the conversation, you can also ask them if there is something they would like to do differently.
  • How do you like engaging with networking events like this?” You’ll learn about how they like to converse with people and what they look for in events, which helps you build a better connection with them.

The ‘location-based’ questions. These aren’t to do with the exact place you’re in, or where you belong. Instead, these are questions to ask when you find yourself with someone in the same space – buffet queue, sitting next to each other, or even in the elevator! It’s about seizing the moment to make a connection.

  • I like the color/ style of your jacket. Looks sharp!” This is not a question, but it definitely is a conversation starter. Says author Meghan Grace, “I like to compliment people on their clothes and accessories. I find this approach to be friendly and less about professionally connecting, especially if you’re at a networking event.” You can club this with any question from the ‘basics’ section.
  • As we’re both here at the (buffet, waiting room, etc), I feel I should introduce myself. I’m [name].” Keep it simple. If at the food counters, follow this up with, “What dish looks exciting to you?” Or even something like, “What a beautiful venue. Have you been here before?”

The idea – What do you do’questions are passé now. People want conversations to be meaningful and even low pressure. We want to make it easier for you to start such conversations. How else can you start a chat? Tell us. And if you’re feeling generally skeptical about networking, this article can help you shift to a more curious space.

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