Building Your Network: 5 Ways to Strike up a Conversation

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Any business networking event represents a great opportunity to meet new people. Business organisations and industry associations run a wide variety of different types of event, with the aim of connecting like-minded career professionals. When you meet a new group of people, it can often be a daunting prospect. How do you strike up a meaningful conversation in a room full of complete strangers?

Start with a confident introduction

When meeting new people, you should remember that first impressions count. The first few minutes of any conversation will define how new people remember you. Go in with confidence. Be assured that you bring relevant skills and experience to the table. Make eye contact with everybody in the group. Smile, say hello, and tell everyone what you do. A confident introduction will make sure that everyone immediately believes that you are somebody that they want to know.

Ask a question

Start with a question to show that you want to learn about other people in the room. Try to think of interesting questions. Ask how long they have been in their current role. Find out what challenges they are now facing. Find out more about their organisation. You can also talk about the event. Ask more about the guest speaker. Find out which people know each other. The most important thing is to avoid closed questions. These questions (such as, “did you drive here?”) lead only to “yes” or “no” as an answer. This is not a great way to get a conversation going.

Do not just talk about business

The people in the room with you all lead unique, interesting lives. They do not necessarily want to talk about business for the entire event. Open the conversation up and talk about things that do not relate directly to business. Talk about somebody’s recent holiday. Show an interest in their children. Comment on a recent event in the news that you believe affects the other person. Widen the conversation to show that you have a broad range of interests, and that you can adapt to different situations.

Avoid controversial subjects

When meeting people for the first time, there are certain subjects that you should avoid. Controversial subjects can quickly make other people feel uncomfortable, and may even result in conflict. Matters of race, religion and politics all make great conversations, but probably not when meeting new people. Reserve those subjects for other occasions, and for the people who you know well.

Build rapport by finding common ground

One of the quickest, easiest ways to build a rapport with new people is to find common ground. This can take many forms. You may both have worked for the same company at some point. You may share the same acquaintance. It could be that you both have an interest in sailing.  Explore other people’s interests and try to find common ground that allows you to talk less formally.

Awkward conversations make it hard work to meet new people at networking events. Remember that the ability to strike up a meaningful interaction is a skill like any other, and takes practice. If you want to effectively develop your network, however, it is a skill that you should develop as quickly as possible.

If you are considering changing jobs or perhaps transitioning into a new career, attending business networking events can be a great way to establish relationships and perhaps learn about career opportunities of interest.

Jeanette Hannan is the Managing Director of Résumés for Results – Career Consulting, please [click here] if you would like to know more about her.