Small talk is a huge, yet unavoidable aspect of networking. The pressure of trying to connect quickly and effectively with complete strangers can be stressful, sometimes even causing to stray away from the situation entirely.
However, small talk need not reduce you into a panic stricken state of silence!
Follow our 8 simple yet smart icebreakers to practice and turn you into a pro conversationalist.
1. “Hi, my name is…”
There is a reason why simple is always better – it works. Put out your hand, flash a genuine smile, make eye contact, and introduce yourself. The person you are talking with will customarily share their name and you will be off to a good start already!
2. “What do you do?”
Indulge people; people love to talk about themselves! Being inquisitive and curious will give you an opening to begin the conversation and then allow the person to pick it up from there and carry on talking.
3. “What business are you in?”
A slightly different version of “What do you do?” This can be appropriate, depending on the event and the person. You may even want to use both. If you learn that you’re talking with an accountant, you can ask, “Are you with an accounting firm, or do you work for a business in a different industry?”
4. “What do you like about your job?”
Open-ended questions are not only important to establish interest but allows for a great follow-up because they usually cannot be answered in just a few words. Positivity and genuine interest in the work of others is also strongly reinforced.
5. “How did you get started in this kind of work?”
Story-telling can lead to very interesting conversations that could become slightly more personal as well, establishing an inadvertently good relationship. You can learn so much about someone if you hear even a bit about their journey instead of focusing exclusively on the here and now.
6. “What are you hoping to get out of this event?”
If the event is a professional setting meant solely to communicate and network, this may well be worth a shot. It gives the other person a chance to communicate something about themselves indirectly–is their answer funny, sarcastic, sincere, dismissive?
7. “I love your work”
Expressing admiration for someone well-known is a good starting place, from where you can pivot into open-ended questions about their work or events they conducted. Be careful however, to not pile on the butter and remain professional at all times!
8. “What advice would you give someone just starting out in your industry?”
With an industry veteran or older person, an open-ended hypothetical like this can lead you to valuable insights. You may also want to ask how the industry has changed during the course of their career.
The most important thing to remember when creating a dialog opening for yourself is to be interested in learning about others – this will always initiate a conversation of substance. A dialog works as give-and-take between you and the other person, so make sure you insert yourself into the equation as well to enhance your networking experience.
It goes without saying that it’s always a good idea to read about any event you are attending beforehand, and catch up on the latest industry news related to that headline.
With this info and your 8 smart tips, you are ready to network with confidence. Check out more tips: Learn the Art of Smart Networking