How to Start a Conversation with Someone You Don’t Know at a Networking Event

Have you ever gone to a networking event with the best of intentions of making new contacts and then found yourself talking to people you already know?  Or, maybe you just grab some food and head off to your seat to listen to the speaker?  Later, you start to think that networking events are just a big waste of time, so you stop going.

If that is what you are doing at networking events, then you are right.

The hardest part of attending a networking event is . . . networking!  In order to network, the first step is being able to start a conversation.

A couple days ago, I gave a presentation to the Women of Wealth Networking Group in Cottage Grove, MN.  Although, the main part of my presentation is on business storytelling, they wanted some networking tips on talking with people they didn’t know for an upcoming joint event.  So,  I made a chart “How to Start a Conversation with Someone You Don’t Know at a Networking Event” which summarizes some of the tips in my book, Small Talk Big Results:  Chit Chat Your Way to Success!

Networking Tips from Small Talk Big Results!

A few notes:

Pre-event preparation can give you a lot to talk about!  Try to find out who is going and do a little research on key people or businesses.  Also, don’t get too worked up over your “elevator speech.”  Try for a very short statement (if you have a tag line, you can modify that).  For example, I might use my tag line and say “I help people chit chat their way to success” to briefly explain what I do.  I might then ask the other person what they do.  And we can have a back-and-forth conversation rather than a monologue.

Being NOSE-y is all about an attitude of friendly interest.  Be someone who people aren’t afraid to approach and maintain friendly interest during conversation.  If you are a little introverted, you can use your body language to do the talking along with a few open-ended questions and keep a conversation going for quite a while.  About smiling–I don’t mean a goofy smile, but a generally pleasant expression, maybe with a hint of intrigue (e.g. a “Mona Lisa” smile).  A neutral expression almost always looks more negative than neutral.

See and Say.  The very simplest opening lines (icebreakers) involve observing something you both can see (food, attire, weather) and then saying something about it!  This comment does not have to be profound–it just gets the conversation going.  If you can comment on something that will tie in to something you both have in common, all the better.  People tend to like people who are like themselves.  Also, consider your tone of voice (keep it friendly).  In addition to body language, tone of voice contributes much to perceived meaning.

The 4-Step Hello.  Often “see and say” seems more casual–you say something before you actually introduce yourself and add, “Oh, by the way, I’m . . .”  However, you can introduce yourself first, if nothing else comes to mind or if it seems to make sense to introduce yourself first.  One important note is to make eye contact before you break into a bigger smile (assuming you have kept up your “Mona Lisa” smile) .  Making eye contact and then widening your smile gives a “you’re special” message.  It is a very appealing way to connect.

F.O.R.M. your contacts.  It’s just a way to organize questions, until you can internalize what kinds of questions to ask.  In most business situations, I’d start out with the occupation questions first.

Do you have any additional tips on starting conversations?


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

2 Responses to How to Start a Conversation with Someone You Don’t Know at a Networking Event

  1. Wally Wolf says:

    I agree with you. It is important to start a conversation well in a networking event. Here is an example I found on Youtube:

  2. Love the video! I think I’ve talked to Eliza at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN!

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