30 Networking Conversation Starters

You already have a network of connections: your friends, your co-workers, your family and all of their connections with whom they’re willing to connect you. In business, though, it’s always advisable to grow your network — just ask Forbes magazine, which ranked networking as one of the six best ways to find your next job.

Of course, it’s not always easy to put yourself out there and meet new people. That’s why we’ve put together a list of 30 tried-and-true conversation starters to break the ice at your next networking event. Try one and watch as the conversation flows and the connection grows.

The Essentials

  1. “Hi, my name is…” This is perhaps the simplest conversation starter there is, but it gets the job done, so keep it in your conversation-starter bank. Don’t be shy!
  2. “So, what do you do?” The point of networking is to build connections that you can use to leverage your potential and prowess. Finding out you work in a similar field as someone can open the door to more conversation, as well as to a connection you can count on in the future.
  3. “Mind if I join you?” Perhaps your next networking event will have tables or chair circles, in which case you can use this line to break the ice when you sit next to someone new.
  4. “How do you all know each other?” Again, it might be a bit weird to hop right into a conversation that’s already happening, but you can do it. Just make sure to ease in and get to know everyone a little bit. Understanding the connection between them is a great way to do so.
  5. “What’s your story?” It’s open-ended, so don’t have any expectations when you pose this question at your next networking event. You never know — you might discover that you have something random in common with a stranger.
  6. “Are you from around here?” Especially if you work in a big city, you’re likely to find some out-of-towners who have moved for work. There are plenty of easy follow-up questions on this topic, too, so the conversation will definitely move along.
  7. “I like your [insert clothing item or accessory here].” Everyone loves a compliment. And hey, there might be a story behind a funky piece of jewelry or a perfectly tailored suit that your new connection is wearing.

Work, Work, Work, Work, Work

  1. “I need to talk to someone besides my OWN colleagues!” It’s great when your company has a strong showing at a networking event, unless everyone clings together and squanders the opportunity to meet new people. Make your way on your own with this conversation starter.
  2. “I know you! I love your work.” In some fields, and in some cities, the community in which you’ll network is small. Therefore, you might be familiar with some of the faces in the crowd despite not knowing them personally. It’s never a bad idea to add someone well known to your network, and complimenting hard work is a surefire way to get the ball rolling.
  3. “How do you like working at XYZ Company?” You covered the basics when you broke the ice, so ask your conversation partner the nitty-gritty: how’s work going? You’re likely to get an interesting answer that’ll lead to more conversation.
  4. “How did you get into this field?” Again, you’re sure to hear a story, and you might even be able to relate to it if you both work in the same field.
  5. “What do you envision for yourself in the future? How does this event play a role?” This is a tough question, so you might not want to lead with it, but your conversation partner probably has an idea of what he or she wants for the professional future. Who knows? Sharing it at a networking event could help it happen down the line.

Food- or Drink-Centric

  1. “What are you eating/drinking? It looks good!” Take note of an interesting finger food or cocktail and turn it into a conversation!
  2. “Have you tried the finger sandwiches/cocktails? They’re actually really good!” If someone isn’t eating at the moment, you can still turn a smorgasbord into small talk. Lead in with your favorite snack or drink from the table.
  3. Want to grab another finger sandwich/cocktail with me?” Just because you’re chatting with someone doesn’t mean you can’t keep eating or drinking. Simply invite him or her to grab another with you — it could lead to further bonding over the grub.

Event-Related Chatter

  1. “Have you been to one of these before?” Perhaps you and your newfound connection are both networking newbies — that’s something to bond over!
  2. “This venue is incredible, huh? Have you been here before? A hotel banquet hall probably won’t inspire location-related conversation, but if your networking event happens to take place somewhere that’s truly remarkable, you can throw that into a conversation.
  3. “How did you hear about this event? Perhaps the organizing person or party is a connection that the two of you share.
  4. “What did you think of the speaker/training?” An opinion-based question related to the event itself is easy to ask when you first meet someone.
  5. “How did you get here?” Once you learn a bit about your conversation partner, you can ask about the roads they used to get to the event. Traffic, train lines and construction can all lead to further conversation!
  6. “What brought you here?” or “What do you hope to get from today? Everyone has a reason for attending a networking or industry-related event. If you find someone with similar intentions, you’ll probably have an easier time making a connection.

Meet the Press

  1. “Can you believe [insert headline of the day here]?” There’s always something conversation-worthy in the news. Just make sure you choose a topic that’s not likely to divide you and your newfound networking buddy.
  2. “How about this weather today? Weather is a current event, and one that’s hardly ever divisive, unless you meet that one person who loves an unexpected torrential downpour or snowstorm in April.
  3. “Who do you think will win the game this weekend? Sports is one of the few news-related topics in which our differences make conversations more passionate — without becoming heated. Bring up the big game if you think it’ll help move things along.

If You Feel Like Trying Something New 

  1. “Aren’t you friends with [insert name here]?” Use this one in a scenario in which you genuinely think you recognize someone, or one in which you don’t, but you want to drum up a conversation. The latter will require a bit of acting on your part, but a case of mistaken identity is always grounds for a bit of chatter.
  2. “What are you up to this weekend?” This might read a bit too familiar, but at a work-related function, it’s totally fine to ask a new connection. At the very least, you’ll get an interesting answer — and a breather from industry-centric conversation. Best case scenario? You’ll have a plan or interest in common and go from there.
  3. “You guys seem to be having more fun than the last group I was talking to! Mind if I jump in?” A great way to have an engaging conversation is to hop into one. See what you can add to the conversation.
  4. “Can you recommend a good restaurant in the area?” Whether you’re speaking to a lifetime resident of your city or someone who simply lives in the same neighborhood as the event, you can always tap his or her brain for food or entertainment suggestions.
  5. “Is the WiFi working for you?” It’s 2016: everyone can bond over the misery of a bad Internet connection. Use it to your advantage if you’re not getting a signal at your next networking event.
  6. “These networking events can be so overwhelming.” Let’s face it: nobody really likes to network. It’s tiresome and nerve-wracking. If you’re feeling comfortable enough with your conversation partner, throw this sentiment out there. Chances are, it’ll bond you together — a connection that might lessen your dislike of these types of events in the future. We’d say, then, that it’s worth a shot. Or, maybe, it’ll help you approach someone in a quieter area where it’s easier to talk.

What’s your favorite ice breaker? Share yours in the comments!

And while you’re here, be sure to subscribe to the PC newsletter for more great advice to grow your career!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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