Six Openers When first meeting other professionals at a Business Connecting Event.

Even the most extroverts find it difficult to approach strangers at a Business Connecting Event. We know the importance of not making a fool of ourselves and creating the right connection within the first 15 seconds. What you say when you first speak with someone will make or break the whole conversation. Rarely can we redeem ourselves. I came across a great article that shared 6 Great Icebreakers at a Business Connecting Event:

“1. Make it all about location.

Use your setting – a convention center, a party, a city – to start off the conversation. An article from Careerbuilder.com gives this example of a location-inspired conversation opener, “Attendance looks higher than last year, how long have you been coming to these conventions?” The article points out that you can build on the answer by asking additional location-related questions, for example “Where did you fly in from?”

2. Ask for advice.

Asking for advice can be both a conversation starter, and a useful way to get helpful information. If the person you’re talking to has attended the event before, ask what they thought was helpful about it, or what other events they attend. Or you can ask them for unrelated advice on common interests like a restaurant or movie suggestion. These kinds of questions can get the conversation flowing naturally and illuminate common interests. As an additional plus, it feels good to have your opinion requested.

3. Come prepared.

Many networking experts suggest taking a quick glance at the day’s news stories before you head out to an event so you can ask others about current events. To keep things light, you can also scan popular culture news. Master networker and author Keith Ferrazzi calls this “conversational currency, ” as it allows the discussion to flow.

You can come up with discussion points on general interest topics as well. In an article on Real Simple.com, The Fine Art of Small Talk author Debra Fine offers this advice: “As you prepare for a function, come up with three things to talk about as well as four generic questions that will get others talking.” Good generic questions focus on things that most of us have dealt with at some point, such as, “I’m not sure where to go on vacation this year. Have you taken a good vacation recently?”

  1. Be brave about sharing yourself.

Most networking talk is forgettable because it’s so generic. No one shares much and they stay clear of controversial topics. While it’s not good form to provoke an argument, it is fine to share your opinion. In fact, being brave enough to be real with others, and to allow yourself to be a well-rounded and interesting person is far better than the alternative.

4. Ask and listen.

Sometimes the best small talk is not talking at all. Learn to ask great questions that get others to talk. Remember that people love to talk about themselves, especially when they have an attentive listener. In order to keep the conversation going, networking expert Ivan Misner offers a simple strategy: keep asking curious questions. He adds that you only have to know a minimal amount about a topic to ask smart questions. Misner suggests that people’s responses will make you ask more questions, and that you’ll soon find you’ve had an entire conversation, just by encouraging them to talk.

Of course, the types of questions do matter. Open ended ones are best (start with How or What) rather than closed ended ones (start with Why or Do). The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin points out that it’s better to say “What’s keeping you busy these days?” rather than the more conventional and expected “What do you do?” The former will make someone talk about their professional and personal lives, while the latter will immediately box them into just one topic.

5. Lose the elevator pitch.

I know that there’s widespread advice to have an elevator pitch at the ready so you can succinctly state what you do at a networking event. There are even classes for business owners to come up with compelling phrasing. But how many of these do we really remember? I would much rather have someone have an engaging conversation with me — which I’ll remember — over any clever phrasing that they’ve clearly memorized. Good networking is about connection, enough so that people want to talk to us again. When you focus on that, it’s much easier to start any conversation, and keep it going well past the event’s end.”

By Kristi Hedges. You can find more info at http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2013/08/30/six-icebreakers-that-take-the-pain-out-of-networking-events/

Jacqueline H. Waller
Partner
Connecting Atlanta

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