Unless you’re super confident, the chances are that the thought of heading to a networking event with a bunch of strangers makes you a little nervous. It’s all too common to fall into the trap of standing around awkwardly, waiting for someone else to come up to you and start a conversation.
Stepping outside your comfort zone and being the one to make the ‘first move’ isn’t easy. If you’re like most people, you’ll being overthinking initial introductions – What do I say? What if the other person ignores me? What if I sound weird? We’ve all been there.
Done right, networking can be valuable for your career. You may bump into someone who can help you get your foot through the door into your dream job, or you may get chatting to an influential person within your field and create a lasting connection.
No one wants to be that person stood in the corner alone all night, sipping on free prosecco. Scrap your habit of throwing in the towel and heading home early by giving any of these ten openers a try. Spoiler: they’re are really rather simple when you think about it…
Connect through nametags
If it’s one of those events where everyone’s wearing nametags, it can take off a bit of the pressure to say hi when you already know someone’s name. You could try mixing things up by being a bit creative with your nametag (think Sharpies and doodling), or creative with your introductions (“Hi Tilly – that’s an interesting name. Is it short for anything?” – FYI this is a real introduction that I have received more times than I can count!).
It can be even more helpful if your nametags mention where you work. Recognising the name of a company can help you lead the conversation and ask more about a person’s role there and where they’re based. And if you’ve never heard of the company, you can always start off by asking what it does.
Find their purpose
People go to networking events for different reasons – it might be compulsory with their job, they might be representing a client, they might have a personal interest or connection, they might be job hunting, or maybe it’s something else all together.
Ask what brings them to the event. This can open up different avenues of conversation. Once you get chatting to a few different people, you’ll find that everyone will offer a different answer, which can make the idea of networking far more interesting!
Talk about the speaker
Giving a nod to the speaker(s) can be a simple way to open a conversation. You’re all at the same event to listen to the same speakers, so this puts you on common ground with everyone else.
You could ask them if they have ever heard of the speaker before or if they’ve ever attended another event where the speaker has presented. Whatever boat you’re in, it’s a good chance to share your knowledge and bounce ideas with another person.
Ask about their company
One of the things that makes networking so valuable for your career is the chance to connect with people from different companies. Find out about the company a person works for – What does the company offer? Who are their clients? What is their role in the company? Are they here with other members of their team?
These kinds of questions will leave room for you to tell them about your own career, and share any similarities between their company and your own, as well as your individual career paths.
Mention previous events
Without sounding like the cheesy chat-up line “do you come here often?”, ask them if they’ve attended any previous events held in the same venue or organised by the same group.
Even if they haven’t it will give you the opportunity to share your own experiences. You can turn the conversation more broadly to networking events in general. And if you’re feeling brave, just be honest and say networking events always make you feel a bit nervous. You’d be surprised – most people will agree to this, which can relieve the pressure.
A well sent compliment can go a long way when you’re in a room full of people you don’t know. Keep things simple by complimenting someone’s choice of accessories (a nice watch, jewellery, purse, or glasses for example), rather than honing in on anything more specific.
If you are planning to strike up a conversation with one of the speakers at the event, offer a compliment based on their presentation or any of their previous work you may have come across prior to the event.
Follow up on the compliment in a way that allows you to carry on the conversation. “Where did you get your purse? I’m looking for a new one for work.” or “Can you tell me a bit more about (the point) you made in your presentation?” gives you the chance to find out more about a person. After all, compliments can sweeten the mood, because who doesn’t like being on the receiving end?
Suggest a mutual connection
If you spot someone who looks vaguely familiar, whether from another networking event or through a mutual connection, use this to your benefit. Ask them if they know someone you do. Even if the answer is ‘no’, you’ll pave the way to get to know them. If you think you’ve seen them from afar before, ask about another event you’ve been to that you think they might have attended too. Don’t feel embarrassed if the answer’s ‘no’ – you can always just switch the conversation to learn more about why they’re at this event.
Ask for help
It’s natural for someone to respond if you need help, and this can lead to further conversation. It might be as simple as asking for directions to the bathroom or the refreshments stall. If you’re by the refreshments you can always ask for someone to pass a plate or for clarification on a certain dish.
When you ask someone else for advice, the chances are that they’ll appreciate the opportunity to share their own experience and knowledge in order to help. You could ask for a few pointers on how to get the most out of the event – How do they usually navigate networking events? Have they made any lasting connections from events such as this one before?
Or ask them for industry advice that can put you in good stead for excelling in your career – How did they get into their current role? What kind of experience have they built up? Do they have any suggestions for what you can do in order to better hone your talents or land your dream job?
Just introduce yourself
And if all else fails, stepping up and introducing yourself is the simplest way to get a conversation going. The thing about networking events is that many people will be feeling just as hesitant as you, so being the first to step up can really pay off. With a little bit of courage and determination, you may meet some really interesting people and make lasting connections.
What’s your go-to strategy for networking events? Share with us on Twitter @celebricious.com.