2023 heralds the great return of in-person networking. Event organizers and professionals alike are eager to re-embrace the unique synergy that comes from face-to-face interactions. Even from the corporate perspective - more than ever, many of today's biggest brands appreciate the value of in-person.
If you’re a young professional (especially if you’re looking to break into advertising, sales, or marketing), in-person networking events are an invaluable way to grow both your skills and career. One thing you may be wondering, however, is how do these sorts of events work? I mean, do you just walk up to people and ask them to hire you or to buy what you’re selling? Are networking events just giant sales conferences?
No, they aren’t. Networking - the kind that creates real value - is not about being overly aggressive and not about simply sharing as many digital business cards as you can. Networking done right is about interacting with people in a natural way WITHIN a theme. And the theme, of course, is your profession and your skills. The best networking tip anyone can ever give is to do your best to simply remain calm, and to be yourself. Authenticity, which also means honesty, is always rewarded in the end…With that said, there are certain pragmatic realities of what networking events look and feel like - and some of these can be daunting for more introverted professionals. The main concern in these cases is the ice breaker.
It’s one thing to “be yourself” and “be authentic” when you’re already wrapped up in a conversation with a new connection. But how do you start? How does someone new to networking events gracefully enter into conversations, make their presence known, and spark up an engaging conversation. If you’ve been wondering the same thing, Popl is here to help. Here are some of the best professional ice breakers for your next networking event.
Ask others “What’s your favorite conversation starter at a networking event?” this is a playful and engaging way to start a conversation. It’s especially useful when you’re one sales professional talking to another - very “inside baseball.”
The classic networking icebreaker is, of course, simply asking someone “So, what do you do?” This is a fine question and, in fact, is often a great way to go. One minor twist, however, is that you can first offer what YOU do. “I work in ___, how about yourself?” This provides a easy way for your conversational partner to jump in.
Your surrounding can include the city you’re in - as in “how do you like ___” or, better yet, “I’m loving ___. I come here every year around this time. How about you?” Or you can even focus on something more immediate - like the food. “Have you tried these ____? I can’t stop eating them.” Remember, when starting a conversation with someone you want to make it easy for them to enter. Trying to be too clever or vague off-the-bat, usually hurts you because if people are confused by what you’re saying their defenses will go up which, of course, is the worst case scenario.
Commenting about news items is a slippery slope when you’re meeting new people. But if you choose something fun and apolitical it can go well. “How you seen the new Avatar movie?” Something like that is pretty difficult to get mad at and, even if the answer is “No,” you can parlay that further conversation quite easily.
If you’re new to networking, try saying so. Maybe the person you’re talking to is new as well. This can be a great way to connect with someone on a very human level.
Ask someone if they know the area. If so, ask them about their favorite restaurants and or places nearby. It’s great to give someone the opportunity to share their knowledge - especially (or, rather, only) if you’re genuinely interested.
If you’re at a professional networking event it’s certainly not unusual to ask anyone you’re talking to about what they think the coming year will bring as far as economic climate. “Do you think we’re going into a recession?” “How do things look in your industry?” Questions like this can work very well to get new connections talking.
There’s nothing wrong with being a fifth wheel when you’re at a networking event. In fact, it sometimes quite necessary to be able to walk up to a group and engage. The good news is that at networking events groups are much more accepting of such interactions. Simply walk up to any group that looks engaging and ask “mind if I join.” The key then, is to LISTEN. Don’t assume that because you just entered the conversation it means you must immediately start talking. Be calm. Listen genuinely, and if you’re in the right place it will become obvious when your “opening” is. If this opening never occurs, then it never occurs - no big deal. Just smile and move on.
A genuine compliment will generally be received and appreciated. If someone is wearing a unique pair of shoes or jewelry, for instance, this is a great place to start. You can try something like “Those shoes look great on you.” Or “Unique bracelet, I love it.”
If you already know what someone does, try asking them how they got into it. Sometimes people have very interesting career journeys. Other times they don’t. If you sense any resistance to the question of origin, simply offer how you got into what you do and then change the topic. Always trying to make your conversational partner comfortable is a great recipe for long-term success.
There you have it, some great professional icebreakers for your next in-person networking event. Now get out there - be calm, be kind, and be yourself, and all will go well.
by Gerald Lombardo February 06, 2023 5 min read
by Gerald Lombardo February 03, 2023 4 min read
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