Great Networking Conversation Starters

By Lorena Roberts on July 17, 2018

Networking can be a bit intimidating – especially when you’re new to the world of careers. No matter how much your professors preach to you in college that “it’s all about who you know,” taking that initial step and learning how to network is challenging. While most of today’s college graduates want to be networking gurus, knowing how to do it and where to begin is the hard part. And as technology dominates more and more of our everyday interactions, approaching those in your career field to begin an in-person conversation is becoming less and less comfortable.

If you are new to the world of networking, know that it is not as intimidating as it seems. Once you’re in — you’re in. Getting to know a few people in your field and getting your name out there is the most important thing on your list. Once you’ve accomplished that, you are on your way to becoming a networking guru within your field. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, intimidated, lost, and hopeless, here are some excellent networking conversation starters for you to use during your first couple experiences:

via Pixabay.com

1. Open the door.

Talking about ourselves is what makes us most comfortable. So if you’re trying to reach out to someone and connect with them, give them the chance to open their mouth about everything they’re interested in and what they’ve accomplished over the course of their career. Sure, you might not want to know every detail, but networking is all about how skilled you are at socializing/listening/acting like you care. If your boss starts divulging details about his or her grandkids, their bathroom remodel, or how their latest golf game is going, let them talk. Half of getting someone to remember who you are is connecting with them on a level that’s deeper than just small-talk about the weather.

It can be overwhelming to expect yourself to create a personal conversation right after an introduction, so give yourself some leeway. It might take more than one conversation, or more than 10 minutes to get someone really talking. If you’re attending a networking function, they’re probably just as socially exhausted as you are after having to talk to people all afternoon.

If you’re an intern and you’re just trying to be noticed…

  • Offer details about where you’re from. Where did you attend undergrad? What’s a class that’s really piqued your interest in your field? Who’s a professor you had with a recognizable name?

If it’s your first time networking within a company…

  • Ask your fellow networking companions about what they do. What’s their role in the company? Where do they want to be in five years? What are they really, truly interested in?

2. Do your homework before the networking function.

If you’re feeling especially nervous about networking with people in your career field, you can settle your anxiety by doing your homework beforehand. Who are you hoping to get to talk with? What are your common interests/goals?

Do not feel guilty about stalking someone on LinkedIn. That’s literally what it’s there for. If you can take even ten minutes to look up some general things that you’ll have in common, you’ll give yourself an inventory of things to talk about when the anxiety hits you and you’re stuttering.

via Pixabay.com

3. Update your LinkedIn profile.

It’s so awkward to hop onto LinkedIn and find out that the person you’re trying to get to know hasn’t changed their profile picture from their college days. Don’t be that person. Regularly attempt to make an appearance on networking websites and social media. Your technological footprint can be your ticket to a successful networking event.

Remember: Your technological footprint follows you everywhere. I probably don’t need to remind you to make sure you censor your information online. It’s not a landfill for your personal drama. It’s also not somewhere you want to lose your temper. It’ll follow you for the rest of your life. If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read it, keep it to yourself. Otherwise, it’ll probably come back to haunt you in the future.

4. Find common ground.

Before you begin a conversation with a “big-wig,” you’ll want to know a few things you have in common. When you begin a new job or you’re new to a career field, it might be tough to discover things you have in common with people. You have to initiate conversation. Whether it’s at a networking function or just in the office, don’t be afraid to approach people and get to know them.

Some of this just takes time. You can’t expect to be buddies with the boss after just a few weeks. Give it time before you start expecting to find things you have in common with your coworkers and superiors. Then once you do discover that common interest, take advantage of it. Remember: people like to talk about themselves. Once you know what they’re interested in, use that as a starting point to get talking. They’ll remember you because of how they’ll feel after they’ve had a conversation with you.

5. Begin with small-talk.

Don’t feel intimidated — like you have to walk right up to someone and start discussing their most personal passions. It’s always a safe bet to begin with small talk – where are you from? How long have you been with the company? Do you have a family?

It’s easy to start a conversation with someone when you set the bar low — try talking about the weather to get things started. If you’re even the least bit sociable, you’ll easily be able to strike up a conversation. It should come naturally. And if it doesn’t, it’s not networking you’re bad at — it’s chatting with people.

Infographic by Lorena Roberts

6. Use humor.

People tend to remember you better and enjoy talking with you more if you’re funny. If this doesn’t come naturally, I wouldn’t suggest trying to rehearse funny lines. I’d suggest building humor into your everyday conversations. For instance, telling a funny story (that’s obviously work-appropriate) will get people’s attention and if it makes them laugh, they’re much more likely to remember who you are. The best thing you can do for yourself is get your name out there with the sentence, “Have you met ______?! They’re hilarious!”

Once you establish yourself as a good storyteller and a personable individual, it’ll be even easier for you to network with people.

7. Set yourself apart.

Imagine a job interview at a private school, where every single candidate is dressed in the same colors and style. How would you remember the difference between them? Probably their hair, or if one suddenly walked up to you in black lipstick. When it comes to networking, you want to set yourself apart, just as you would if you were wearing black lipstick to a job interview. Where you want to be careful is how you set yourself apart. For instance, maybe black lipstick to a job interview isn’t the best impression you could make. But the point is that you’d be remembered.

The key to networking is making an impression that lasts — in a positive way. When you start talking to people, keep in mind that you’ll be one of many conversations they’ll have that day.

8. If you’re introverted…

You’ll probably gravitate towards a quieter part of the networking event if you’re naturally introverted. Chances are, there are more people who feel just like you do at this event than you realize. When you find yourself sneaking off to a quiet corner to gather your thoughts and pull yourself away from the hectic-ness of the event, look around and notice if there are any others in the same boat.

“Man I hate networking events” can be a good way to start a conversation with someone who has a mutual distaste for this kind of thing. And if the only person you know once you leave the event is the other introverted person you happened to run into at the hors d’oeuvres table, that’s alright.

9. Ask about the area.

People love talking about their favorite restaurants. If you’re looking for a great recommendation for Mexican food, there’s no better place to ask around than at a networking event. Once you get someone started on restaurants they love going to, your conversation will naturally run its course. Should you find out that you have a lot in common, try suggesting a group of you get together for drinks or dinner after work sometime.

10. What’s happening around the country?

Other than the weather, current events and local news are some of the easiest ways to get into a conversation with someone. “Did you see the _______ on the news today?” can open a whole can of worms about what’s going on around the country/world and in your own community.

If you’re new to your city, use this opportunity to bond with someone over what it’s like to live wherever you are. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re new to the area and you’re looking for a great place to workout, or a good hiking spot.

11. Don’t apologize – it makes things a little weird.

If you’re not good at networking and you know it, I wouldn’t suggest walking up to a group of people and announcing how bad you are at networking events. Everyone’s nervous in these types of situations, so you don’t need to draw more attention to the fact that you’re hating your life right now.

People are uncomfortable and don’t know how to handle it when you say things like “I’m really bad at this, so I’ll just start by introducing myself.” How are they supposed to respond? “Oh, you’re not bad at this! You’re doing great!” They’ll feel like they have to treat you like a child. Which isn’t a good look moving forward.

12. Ask a question.

Instead of offering your opinion about something right off the bat, you can build your credibility with a group of people by first asking a question. Ease your way into a group of people by surveying how they feel about a number of topics: whether it’s work related or about a current event.

“What do you guys think about the new sushi place down the street?” is much easier to respond to than when you whirl your opinion into a lively conversation between three or four people.

13. Arrogance is the fastest way to turn people off.

Whether you’re naturally arrogant or you wouldn’t know how to brag on yourself if someone handed you a cue card, arrogance is a sure-fire way to make enemies at a networking event. No one is there because they want to hear about all of your accomplishments. So like I’ve mentioned before, focus on asking other people about themselves. It’s no fun to sit around and listen to someone brag about everything they’ve accomplished. You start feeling crappy about yourself and then you won’t want to have a conversation with that person in the future.

What’s most important about networking events is not pressuring yourself to meet everyone who’s in attendance. Networking is hard. Even if you’ve had tons of practice! It’s intimidating to walk into a room of people and be expected to strike up conversation about a variety of topics. If you’re new to the world of networking, I suggest you have some “safe options” to fall back on when you get stuck. Spend a little extra time with the newspaper the morning before your event. And then ensure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and ready to accept connection requests. You want to put your best face forward at these types of events — so maybe even consider a haircut. And don’t forget to bring your business cards. 

No matter what, remember that networking is about putting yourself out there. Walk into the event ready to be yourself. You’re awesome. Don’t forget everything you’ve done to earn your place at the table. You’re worth getting to know.

Lorena graduated from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville last December with a BA in Honors Psychology. After some serious soul-searching, she's decided to pursue a Master's in teaching in order to teach middle school math! In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her Whippet mix, Gio, at the dog park and binge watching Netflix with endless cups of Hot Cocoa.

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