Icebreakers for Networking
y Lolly Daskal President and CEO, Lead From Within
A simple hello can lead to a million things. Know the right phrases to be successful.
Networking events are a great opportunity to make valuable contacts, professionally and personally. But many people stress over the pressure of trying to connect quickly and impressively with complete strangers. Some even stay away because they can’t get comfortable with the idea.
It’s definitely a situation that can prey on any insecurities you have, but if you prepare well, you can know that you won’t be caught in a long weird silence or trying to think of something to say that doesn’t sound awkward. Then you’ll be ready not just for networking events but for company picnics, conferences, cocktail parties, and any other social events that take you outside your circle of family and friends.
Here are eight perfect icebreakers to learn and practice.
1. Hi, my name is . . .
Start with the basics. Put out your hand, flash a genuine smile, make eye contact, and introduce yourself. From there the person you’re talking with will almost certainly share their name, and you’re already off to a good start.
2. What do you do?
People love to talk about themselves. If you’re inquisitive and curious, most people will pick it up from there and carry the talking. Again, it’s a question of starting with the basics.
3. What business are you in?
A slightly different version of “What do you do?” Either 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 like this are a great follow-up, because they probably can’t be answered in a couple of words. It reinforces positivity and communicates interest in their work.
5. How did you get started in this kind of work?
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. And when people start telling their story, things can really get interesting.
6. What are you hoping to get out of this event?
Obviously this isn’t a question to ask at, say, a birthday party for a board member, but if the focus is professional, it’s worth a try. 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.
If you’re talking with someone well-known, expressing admiration for their work can be a good starting place. From there, you can pivot into something more open-ended, like “I heard you speak about your new project at last year’s conference–how is that going?” or “One of the ideas in your book really helped me through a rough patch . . . “
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 bottom line is this: Be interested in learning more about others, and you’ll always have something to ask. Be willing to engage in give and take and give something of yourself as well, and you’ll soon wonder what it is you were so intimidated by.