Networking is an unavoidable part of doing business--and one that presents an opportunity to build your network of contacts, meet like-minded people, and put a face to your business.
But even for skilled connectors, networking can also be a drag (or downright intimidating). And no one will remember a dull conversation that sounds like 10 other conversations they had that same evening.
Eight entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) offer advice on how to approach total strangers--and actually spark a conversation worth having. Try these questions as icebreakers:
1. What motivated you to come to this event?
Breaking the ice isn't about going too deep too quickly. Rather than asking "What's your name?" or "What do you do?" I like to ask, "What motivated you to come to this event?" It gives you a window into your conversation partner's goals and allows you to ask meaningful follow-up questions and possibly help them in some way. --Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40/Finance Whiz Kids
2. What do you do, and how can I help?
Quite frankly, in a room full of people, it's easy to feel a bit lost in the crowd. I always ask people what they do and then lead my questions from there, including, "Who are you here to meet?" and "How can I help you achieve your goals?" --Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now
3. What brings you here?
I find that this question opens the door for the other person to talk about themselves and what they wish to accomplish at the event, as well as helps me learn more about their business. It's a perfect, non-threatening way to engage them in conversation, plus it leaves things open for me to follow up with lots of questions. I love listening to other people, so it's a great way to get the conversation moving. --Marcela De Vivo, National Debt Relief
4. What's your reality-TV guilty pleasure?
I love to ask people I'm meeting for the first time what their favorite reality TV show is. I've found most people have at least one really embarrassing show they watch, and it's fun to confide these "secrets" to strangers. It's funny how quickly you can bond with someone who admits to sharing your secret obsession with a show like Dance Moms. --Brittany Hodak, ZinePak
5. What do you do?
6. Who do you know here?
This question strategically tells you two things about the person: 1) If they know someone at the event, you'll find out their type of connections and see who you can introduce yourself to later; and 2) If they don't know anyone at the event, use the opportunity to create a deeper professional connection with someone new. --Shalyn Dever, Chatter Buzz Media
7. What projects are you currently working on?
This question is very broad and doesn't put them on the spot to give a polished elevator pitch. This approach provides insight into something personal, or it could be something business-related that they wish to share. They could be remodeling their boat or working on something related to their line of work. This question allows you to get to know what their priority is at that given time. --Souny West, CHiC Capital
8. How are you?
The best advice I can give is to treat people like people, not as a potential resource--even if that's how you view them. Ask about their day, their family, talk about the weather, pay a compliment. Networking events are social events, and establishing relationships is more important than angling for information or favors. It'll pay off in the long run. --Vik Patel, Future Hosting