Unless you're naturally gregarious, meeting new people is a challenge--and a networking event, which is all about meeting new people--can be downright grueling. You want to sound intelligent but you don't know what to say, and you dread the thought of a long awkward silence or a statement that falls flat.
But if you can get people started talking about themselves, you're off to the races--and they come away thinking you're an excellent conversationalist.
Here are 11 smart things to say at your next networking event:
A polite introduction is important, and you do best by keeping it simple. Walk up, hold out your hand, and introduce yourself. "What do you do?"
Remember, people enjoy talking to people who are interested in them, and they enjoy talking about themselves. When you ask a question, don't let your attention wander. Stay focused and curious, because you're most interesting when you're interested. "I can't believe we both . . . "
If possible, try to find some common ground, an interest or professional affiliation you share. (This may be easier at a conference based on your profession or geographic setting than at a more general event.) "Can I ask you more about . . . ?"
Work to have an open mind and be genuinely curious. If you're standing with a group of people, don't zone out but think of a question can ask to help the conversation progress. "I really like . . . "
Give compliments, but only if you mean it. if you feel uncomfortable keep it generic. You can almost always find something good to say about the food or the setting, if you feel you have nothing to compliment the person about. "I recently read that . . . "
At most networking events, there are multiple conversations going on at once. Make a point of listening and thinking about how you can contribute something of genuine interest. "What do you think about. . . . "
If you're surrounded by people who are experts in interesting field, remember that people love sharing opinions. "It's funny to me . . ."
A sense of humor is a great way to connect. Many people at networking events are nervous. As long as it's appropriate and well-timed, a joke will put people at ease and make you memorable. "Did you see the game last night?"
Sports is a winning topic that connects people and lets you talk about events without the risks of discussing politics. "Can we exchange contact info to schedule a time for us to finish our conversation?"
When you meet someone who seems like a valuable contact, make sure you exchange information before you part. "We recently met at . . . and I wanted to follow up with . . ."
Make sure you do follow up, in a timely and appropriate way. Email or text
Even beyond networking, building good conversational skills is one of the best things you can do for your career and your personal life. Even if you rely on memorized starter phrases at first, get over your self-consciousness and jump in!