If you’ve ever been to a networking event, whether it be virtual or in-person, you’ve probably been met with the dreaded awkward silence. While it’s uncomfortable, it’s not uncommon. Knowing how to network and spark a conversation with a stranger isn’t a skill that comes naturally to many.
Despite the potential for awkward conversation, it’s hard to deny the benefits of networking. Professional networking is one of the best ways to meet people and make meaningful connections that can further your career. It’s a cliché, but sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know that gets you the job of your dreams.
As such, you probably understand the necessity of attending networking events. If you’re uncertain of how to network and how to be successful in your networking efforts, it can be stressful. One way to overcome any anxieties you may be feeling about networking is to create a plan for striking up conversations.
When going to a networking event, it’s important to think about your goals. That way, you can better create your elevator speech and game plan for starting a conversation. You can also prepare conversation prompts and networking topics to discuss (more on this below).
Consider why you’re attending a networking event. Is it to purely build your professional network? Are you actively looking for a new role? Are you trying to make a career change? Depending on your answers, you’ll be able to develop a prompt for conversation and a targeted list of questions so that you can have a successful networking event.
If you’re getting ready to attend a networking event, you must put together an elevator pitch about yourself, your career aspirations, and why you’re attending the event. Your elevator pitch is a quick and effective way to demonstrate your expertise and qualifications with other professionals, introducing yourself and your connections as well.
By composing this pitch in advance, you won’t be startled when someone approaches you and strikes up a conversation. It can also ensure that you can target your conversation to fulfill your goals. For example, if you’re attending a networking event to learn more about an industry before making a career change, including such information in your elevator pitch is essential.
Now that you’ve identified your goals for networking and prepared your elevator pitch, it’s time to focus on creating a list of good convo starters. Many times, coming up with things to say to start a conversation is a huge stressor. By going to your networking event with a list of questions to start a conversation, you can put your mind and nerves at ease (but never read your questions directly from a note card or off your phone).
Consider adding the following list of conversation starters and topics to your list for your next networking event:
Be sure to change up your list of questions depending on the type of event you’re attending. For example, if you’re attending a virtual event, you won’t want to ask about the venue. Likewise, if you’re at a multiday conference, consider asking what sessions someone is attending.
If you’re attending a networking event and draw a blank or freeze up when speaking with someone new, it’s okay. Just remember that other people at the event are probably nervous, too. All you need to do is take a deep breath, smile, and introduce yourself. Starting off with kindness and a smile can go a long way!
For even more networking tips, check out our extensive Resource Center.