11 Icebreakers for Your Next Networking Event

Connect with other professionals by asking questions that will go further than scratching the surface.

Amidst the sea of suits and heels at a professional networking event, it can be difficult to make valuable conversation with strangers. But as we all know, professional networking means transforming those strangers into friends, connections, and customers.

Given the fast-paced nature of most networking events, it’s essential to plant the seeds of a future relationship in a matter of minutes.

Be the first to ask an open-ended question and encourage your new friend to open up. After handshakes and hellos, use these phrases engineered to jump start authentic conversation at networking events.

1. I must admit I’m a little nervous to be here by myself!

You aren’t the only person who feels intimidated to be at an event alone. When you’re the first to admit to butterflies, others have the opportunity to bond with you over the nerves.

2. How did you find out about this event?

Pick up some free networking tips when your partner shares a new social media platform or organization that could be beneficial to your own networking efforts.

Understand their motives. Are they trying to peddle a product or expand their circle? You’ll know in no time and can respond accordingly.

3. Where are you from?

Share in some local pride. Or, welcome a newcomer to your area by suggesting the best watering holes or hiking trails in town. Recently relocated people need a host of new services and if you offer one of them, this question is a friendly opener to your sales pitch.

4. How did you get the idea for your business?

This question sounds like it’s about business, but the response will be personal. Expertly navigate out of small-talk-land by asking about the creative process of entrepreneurship.

5. What kinds of funny or strange things happen at your job/industry?

Remember that everyone feels a little nervous at networking events and that laughter is the best icebreaker. Encourage your partner to let down his or her guard by inviting some humor into the conversation.

6. What’s the most difficult part of your job or your industry?

Everyone likes to blow off steam. It gives the other person a chance to delve deeper into the conversation and provides you a window of opportunity to offer resolution.

7. I’m struggling with (___). Do you know anyone who can help?

Let them be the superhero. By asking for assistance, your partner feels comfortable opening up about services either she or a friend can provide. This question leads nicely into a discussion about referring business to each other.

8. What’s the best part of your job or business?

Focusing on the positive will change course of the conversation into something lighter. Work is stressful, so challenge your partner to brag about one fantastic thing about where he or she earns his living. Then share yours.

9. What kinds of people are you looking to meet tonight?

Is it a customer? A friend? Nobody in particular? When you see if you or your network is a fit for your new connection, you can choose to continue or to conclude the conversation. Plus it’s a nice segue into making an introduction to someone else in the room.

10. Let me introduce you to…

Play matchmaker. When you start making introductions or adding new voices into the conversation, your value as a knowledgable professional increases.

11. That’s interesting! Tell me more.

People love to talk about themselves. Demonstrating authentic interest is the quickest way to plant the seeds of a new relationship. But only ask if you actually care (and remember to make good eye contact, smile, and nod!)