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Sparking interesting conversations is a key to professional networking. Check out our expert guide with conversation starters for networking and learn how to make a good conversation great.
Approaching someone you’ve never met before at a networking event and sparking up a conversation can be a daunting prospect. What’s the best way to start a great conversation? It can be easy to be at a loss for words, then reach for some standard conversation starters like, “Wow, the traffic is awful today, isn’t it?” or “How great has this weather been recently?” While these may start an interaction, they aren’t really going to inspire the greatest conversation for networking.
Having some great conversation starter questions in your arsenal is the best way to quell the nerves and start building and extending your network. With the right opening, the rest of the conversation will flow. Think of it like a great tennis match—once you serve with confidence, the conversation (or ball!) will bounce back and forth.
So, there’s no need to be at a loss for words as we have a round-up of the best conversation starters for networking, including:
What are good networking conversation starter questions?
Ice breaker conversation starters
One-on-one conversation starters
Digging deeper conversation starters
Lighter conversation starters
Good networking conversation starters transform an awkward and unnatural conversation into an interesting and enjoyable discussion. In a professional networking situation, it can lead to making connections, information-sharing, and deep discussions that could open new doors, enhance your skills, and even provide new job opportunities.
There are plenty of topics you can focus your conversations around: the event itself, learning about someone you just met, emerging trends and industry news, laid-back conversations about dream jobs, favorite restaurants, and what even makes a great conversation starter!
Ready to get started? When you arrive at a networking event and survey the room, it’s time to make some introductions and meet some new contacts. Here are some good conversation starters to break the ice:
It's classic and simple, but that’s why it’s effective. This three-pointed conversation starter breaks the ice, tells the other person who you are, and strikes up a work-focused conversation to get you started on networking.
Typically, there will be areas with seating and the chance to grab a coffee, so it’s a perfect opportunity to talk to someone you’ve been hoping to network with. Or you can get to know someone you haven’t met before by joining their table.
The answer to this question will give some background on the person you are talking to and what motivates them. Inevitably, this question will spur some follow up questions. You can also share your motivations and what you hope to get out of the event.
According to an article from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), connections often begin before anyone speaks, with body language. Be sure to do the obvious, like making eye contact and smiling, to show others that you're open to having a conversation.
This is a great conversation starter to replace the age-old “How are you?” If you see someone who is alone, this can be a great way to introduce yourself. Maybe they’re having a pretty good time, or perhaps you’re both having an awful time. Either way, you’ll have something to discuss.
This conversation starter is a savior if you find yourself the odd one out among a group of colleagues and acquaintances. Typically, people will start to jump in to explain who they are and how they know everyone else, making this a great networking opportunity.
Once you’ve broken the ice and found someone interesting to talk to, you can then use some engaging conversation starters to learn more about your fellow networker. Here are some good conversation starters to keep the flow going:
Inviting the person you are networking with to share something about themselves is a great way to understand what makes them tick. Whether they talk about their job, career, family, hobbies, or interests, you’re going to learn something that they’re passionate about.
This question is a great conversation starter if you’re mid-conference and there is a gap between presentations or a refreshment break. You can also throw in some follow-up questions by asking the other person's thoughts on the best speaker, most interesting presentation, or how a break-out session went.
Having a break from shop talk is a good idea to give everyone a bit of light relief, and food/drink is something the majority of people have an opinion on. Just make sure you keep it professional, and don’t have too many drinks or clear the appetizer tray!
Discussing upcoming projects provides an opportunity to brainstorm and share ideas. Maybe you worked on a similar project and can deliver some insight or your counterpart may have overcome a complex problem you are tackling and provide you with a perfect solution.
While you’re focusing on networking, other attendees may have different priorities. Perhaps it’s the educational content, or they are seeking business partners or investors. Whatever the reasons, this question makes for an interesting conversation.
Pay attention to clues in the answers you receive. If someone tells you they work as a Content Marketing Lead, follow up with an open ended question like “How did you get into content marketing?” This will help the conversation flow and be more meaningful.
When you bump into an acquaintance at a conference, or you’ve been speaking to someone new for a little while, it’s natural to move toward deeper conversations. Here are some conversation starters that dig a bit deeper:
This is a great way to acknowledge an industry colleague and spark up a conversation at a networking event. Maybe they just got a new job, won an award, made an insightful post, or are part of an exciting new project. Either way, the other person will value your interest.
Career-origin stories almost always lead to an interesting conversation. Most people enjoy talking about their career path and sharing their experiences (good and bad), enabling you to build more of a personal connection.
Asking this conversation starter has a double impact. Firstly, showing your interest in the other person will make them feel important. Secondly, you may get some insider information on your chosen career path or industry.
New and emerging trends or technological advancements in your industry could pose opportunities, threats, or both. Hearing someone else’s take on the situation could give you a brand new perspective.
This question balances being personal without being intrusive, potentially sparking an interesting conversation where you can also comment on your 10-year plan. If some of your hopes and dreams crossover, you can also establish a good connection with the other person.
Ask not what you can do for yourself, but what you can do for your fellow networker! Once you’ve found out more about your new contact, offering some help to build their network will demonstrate you care and you're a valuable contact to have.
Attending networking events, breaking the ice, and industry-specific conversations are all part and parcel of professional networking. However, sometimes it's good to have a few lighter conversations, especially if you are attending a happy hour meetup which is a more casual networking event. Here’s some conversation starters to lighten the mood but stay professional:
“It’s great to meet you. How has your day been?”
“What do you think of this venue?”
“Have you tried the food? Is there anything I should try/avoid?”
“Wow, that drink looks good! What is it?”
“I love your [shoes/bracelet/piece of attire]. Where did you get it/them from?”
“Do you travel for work? Where have you been recently?”
“Are there any common misconceptions about your job?”
“Who is your role model?”
“What would be your dream job?”
If you’re attending networking events, then it may be time to get your resume on point in case an exciting job opportunity arises. Check out Career.io’s Resume Builder to create an impressive resume that will help you stand out.
Good conversation starters are a critical component of professional networking as they facilitate smooth, enjoyable, and meaningful discussions.
Ask open-ended questions, avoid cheesy topics (like the weather) and actively listen to your fellow networker so you can ask follow up questions.
Remember that starting a conversation will be a lot easier than you think. Once you take the plunge, you’ll find 99 percent of people to be friendly, interesting, and conversational.
Helen is an experienced content writer, with expertise in corporate law, business, sales, marketing and education. Prior to this, she worked in recruitment and human resources, so she has a strong sense of what recruiters are looking for in terms of a potential employee. Helen loves exploring new places, writing blogs of her travel across Europe and enjoying trips to the US, Thailand and the Middle East. She is an avid reader of fiction, poetry, self-help books and factual content and also enjoys creative writing in her spare time, including poetry and children’s fiction.