5 Great Conversation Starters to Break the Ice at Networking Events

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Networking is a great way to boost your career, build a client base and get name recognition. It's important to show up ready to connect, with business cards (hopefully digital ones!) and any pertinent information to align with your networking goals. At the start, there can be some awkward shuffling and it's also easy to stick around people you know. Taking time to prepare some great networking conversation starters, though, will help you maximize the time you have in the event to foster connection over contact swapping, leave an impression and open the door for follow up. Today, we're diving into how to maximize your time at networking events.

Important Networking Stats for 2024

Here's what you should know about networking in 2024.

Finding Common Ground: Soft Lob Conversation Starters

We've all met the person at a networking event who's a bit too intense, starting with a question that catches us off guard. Networking events require the same care as other relationship-building opportunities, so start with common-ground questions and statements. These are ways to start a conversation without scaring anyone.

1. I can't stop eating this hummus, have you tried it?

It's hard not to connect about food, so if there's something yummy, bring it up. Everyone's been asked their name, where they work, what they do, why they're here. Trying a softer approach like this allows you to connect in a more organic way. If the vibe is right, you can move into conversation more naturally. Conversation starters don't have to address name, rank, serial number out of the gate.

2. So, what's your favorite Kate Middleton theory?

While this topic won't be evergreen, there's usually some wild story in the news that people are following, even if they don't want to be. Currently, as of the writing of this blog, there are a ton of conspiracy theories around Kate Middleton's absence from public life. This is the kind of topic that's safe to bring up because it's not political, doesn't broach religion and is likely to bring about a few laughs more than anything else. Either they're following it, their partner won't stop telling them about it or it's been batted around the water cooler. Find out what's in the Zeitgeist and ask about it. Figure out the meme everyone's talking about or the viral video that's captured everyone's attention.

3. Woof, getting here was a struggle but I'm glad to have arrived.

If you live in a major city, traffic and transit are great openers. Whether the D is running on the Q or LA traffic struck again, chances are you can find something in common to commiserate about.

Going Deeper with Meaningful Conversations

Once you've found someone to connect with, you can get into the meat of things, but don't dull it down with "What do you do?" or other boring questions that won't lead to connection, instead get specific and pointed.

4. The speaker's point about company culture really resonated with me, what did you think?

Networking events should be more than an evening drink and snack. At your next one, pay attention to what strikes you in different presentations or speeches and improve your conversations with potentially meaningful connections.

5. What Other Networking Events Have You Been to?

Asking about their other networking opportunities makes it easy to invite someone to, or accept an invitation to meet again at, another event. Just like personal relationships build over time, it's a great approach to slowly form a connection and build the connection.

Once You've Discovered Shared Interests Dive Deeper

Once you've connected with someone and noted shared interests and want to connect more, steer the conversation toward your networking goal. Whether you're looking to recruit, find collaboration or feeling out other jobs, you can direct the conversation.

We hold similar roles, have you found X challenging also?

What better way to learn about connections than problem solving together? Not only will you get useful information, but you'll learn how the person thinks. This is great for recruiting and for finding places where you'd fit in.

What do you think of the legislation about X?

There's currently hearings and potential legislation about Realtor commissions. Every industry has to deal with oversight, manage anti-monopoly laws, stay up-to-date on accessibility and compliance and so much more.

These are excellent topics to discuss. If you're recruiting, you want to know that connections are aware and thinking about these matters. If you're building your network you want to know who is the expert in your web that can help you understand, share resources, and brainstorm with you.

Wow, there are a lot of people here.

If you're an introvert or if the person you're talking to is, this is a great icebreaker. Networking events can be tough for introverts and this gives you an excuse to step into a quieter corner and explore deeper conversation in a more comfortable setting.

Our Least Favorite Networking Questions

We'd be doing you a disservice if we didn't tell you what to stay away from when it came to networking questions. Some are obvious, and we already mentioned religion and politics. But there are other questions and techniques to avoid.

Humor Doesn't Work

Everyone loves to laugh but humor is subjective. Here's a breakdown on why to avoid it. And we're not saying you shouldn't laugh - humor that arises organically is great. Just don't come with canned jokes or stylings.

Don't Self-Deprecate

Self-deprecating humor works in films and amongst friends but it doesn't have a place at networking events. Imagine someone came up to you underdressed and said, "I can't believe how underdressed I am!" Chances are, you'd not be impressed. Shouldn't a professional know how to dress for an event? Did they not look up information? Have they not been to similar events? Additionally, self-deprecating comments can force you to compliment people - and that gets awkward quickly.

Saucy Humor is Always a bad Idea

Sure, we're all adults at a networking event, but what people consider acceptable varies  across the board. It's better to leave the dirty joke, no matter how funny, at home. There's a time and place for everything and networking events are not it.

The Only Acceptable Joke

If you must tell a joke, here's one we'll let slide.

"How much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice."

Helpful Networking Tips + Tricks

Having your conversation starters is a great start. Here are some other things to keep in mind for other aspects of networking events.

How's Your Body Language?

We know body language is important, but how can you manage it? The first trick is to know what you tend to do that is off putting.

The best way to discover this is to ask someone you trust. This can be a partner, good friend or family member.

Be open and share that you're attending an event and want to make an even better impression. Ask them if they've ever noticed something you do that shows you in a negative light. For example, do you do things that make you look aloof? Do you avoid eye contact? How's your posture? Find one or two things you can improve and start there.

One of the most-reported body language faux pas is crossing your arms or fidgeting. Those are two things you can work on easily and that will make a tremendous difference.

Wear the Name Tag

So many people don't like wearing name tags. But a networking event is a place where many names are new.

Wear the name tag!

And, don't just wear it, but write legibly. We recommend either following the suggested format (first name, company, MBTI or whatever they've selected) or, if there is no format, writing the version of your first name you prefer (ie. Bob vs Robert, or vice versa).

Not only does this show you're all in on the event, but it also skips the "what's your name?" phase of the evening.

Get out of your Comfort Zone

If there's a time for sharing or answering questions and you usually avoid this, make it a goal to speak. This increases the chance other people will come up to you and you may make connections you wouldn't have otherwise.

It can be very easy to stay around the people you know when networking. Try to spend some time meeting new people. Having a few quick lines to do this can help make you more comfortable. Here are two we like:

You look like you're having the most fun of any group here, may I join in?

If you see people smiling and laughing, it's okay to ask to join. Whether or not they know each other, if they're the type of people who let you in, they're people you want to meet.

On the other hand, if they are not open or cool down immediately, laugh, excuse yourself and don't make it even weirder.

Hi! I always speak to my colleagues at these events and was hoping to meet some new people.

Hearing yourself say this out loud can make it much easier to do. It's a way to set an intention and connect!

Extend the Evening, Carefully

If you've connected with someone and want to keep going, it's okay to ask to continue speaking that evening. Just be smart about it.

Sometimes the conversation is good and deserves to finish naturally. The venue likely plans on closing down at a specific time, but chances are there's another place to go.

Google Maps is a great way to find a local coffee shop, diner or café to grab a refreshing drink and continue your chat.

Notice that we didn't suggest a bar? If the event had alcohol and you had a drink or two, that's fine, but asking someone to go to a bar isn't a good idea. You're making a professional connection and want to keep it that way. The best way to do that is over coffee, tea or a few soft drinks. It also comes across as safe, whereas asking someone to go grab a drink can be interpreted many other ways.

Exchange Information Strategically

We've been to more than one event where participants seemed to be in a race to get as many contacts as possible without any conversation. That's not the way to do it.

Once you've had an organic conversation and learned a little about each other, ask to share contact information and state that you'd love to follow up.

This is when a digital business card will come in handy. Share using your Popl QR code, device or by tapping. If they don't have a card, use the Popl scanning functionality to get their details into your phone and be sure to set a follow-up using the platform.

Exchanging information after making a real connection is a great opportunity to build your network in a way that works for you and doesn't simply result in contacts you can't remember.

Dress the Part

Having networking questions in mind is great, but also make sure you feel comfortable. The best way to do this is to dress appropriately for the event. While most are business casual, you don't have to assume. You can reach out and ask the organizers or, here's our favorite trick: check social media for pictures from other events in the series!

Checking out images and videos online will give you the confidence to show up and blend in.

Ready to Network?

By approaching professional relationship building the same way you'd approach a friendship, you're more likely to build a more authentic relationship.

Don't dive into the deep end right off the bat, instead take time to build comfort and then move the conversation to a place that allows for meaningful dialogue. From there, you can move into interesting, nurturing conversations that leave you both feeling positive and stronger. If you want, extend the conversation or be sure to swap contact information and follow up later.


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