Among the challenges associated with networking is the simple act of how you start up a conversation with a stranger. Add to that challenge the fact that you might be slightly introverted where pointless conversations are like staring into the black void. Nothing comes to mind. You don’t have a relationship, no common ground, you aren’t yet even sharing a common experience – so how to you do strike up a conversation?
Here are 10 conversation starters that have worked for me:
1. If you are at a party: “How do you know Bob?” This one is great. It acknowledges that you both know the same person and allows them to talk about themselves. From the story you are told, you will have a gold mine of other threads to follow. Asking questions shows interest.
2. If you are at a professional group: “Are you a member?” If they are, you can ask them about activities the group has had or how long they have been a member. If they aren’t, ask them what brought them to the group meeting.
3. If there is a speaker: Introduce yourself to them. People tend to ignore the speaker, especially before they speak. Read up on their topic so you can ask them about the topic or their profession. They appreciate getting to know the crowd they are speaking to.
4. If you’re at any meeting: Find the person in charge and introduce yourself. Be mindful that they may be busy organizing things, so you shouldn’t linger unless they signal otherwise. Make sure you let them know why you are attending their meeting.
5. If you’ve been to the meeting before, ask to volunteer for a task, like signing people in. Introduce yourself to the people you are coming into contact with– Indicate you’re new and would like to get acquainted. Follow up later by using their name and asking them about their participation.
6. Anywhere you are, consider saying: “I couldn’t help but notice your (fill in the blank- handbag, coat). I really like that style.” Then introduce yourself and ask them about what you’re both participating in.
7. Anywhere you are: “Hi, I’m ________. What line of work do you do?” Once they have answered that, good follow up questions are: How long have you been doing that work? How do you like it?
8. If you’re at an event where there are booths or similar: Introduce yourself and ask them to tell you about their business or group they are representing. You want to ensure you share information about yourself so they have it for future reference.
9. If you’re a regular at a place like a gym or church – look for new faces: Introduce yourself and ask them if they are new. If they are new, tell them about your involvement and ask what might interest them. If they aren’t new, but you just never crossed paths, find out what has changed in order for you to now be participating at the same time.
10. If attending any event and you see someone you know speaking with someone you don’t know: Walk up to them, wait for a break or acknowledgement. Say Hi to your acquaintance and ask them to introduce you to the unknown person or be ready to introduce yourself. A logical next question is to ask about how they got to know each other.
To create a greater sense of comfort when going to any gathering of people, think through the various scenarios you are likely to run into and how best to handle them. You don’t have to “work a room” and try to meet everyone. I pick a goal of meeting 3 people per event and having high quality, fairly in-depth conversations with them. For people who are uncomfortable with these types of situations, narrowing your focus, making a goal and knowing how to get started can turn dread into enjoyment.