Networking events are perfect opportunities to build your contact base, but you won't get more than a few business cards if you don't leave an impression. Making meaningful business connections requires delving beneath the surface. To pull off that critical first impression, try leading with a creative icebreaker.
These six entrepreneurs share the first question they ask when seeking a new acquaintance at an event. Remember: It's okay to have fun with it.
How did you get started?
When seeking to learn more about a new contact and their company, sometimes the best place to start is at the beginning. Chris Gronkowski, creator of shaker bottle Ice Shaker, finds that learning more about where they started and how they got to where they are today is valuable for connecting -- and even picking up a trick or two.
"This is a great question to ask, because everyone has a unique story about how they got started in business and different techniques that were successful for them, which I like to note," he says. "It also gives me a chance to learn about this person and their company and how we can benefit from each other."
Would you rather lose one arm or one leg?
"Asking a silly but thought-provoking question can start a memorable conversation with a stranger," says Bryce Welker, founder and CEO of CPA review site Crush the CPA exam. This is a great way to break through the noise of the many attendees focusing strictly on business.
"I've found that asking off-the-wall questions to potential connections sets me apart from other professionals who ask tired questions that often encourage canned responses," says Welker. "It's possible that one zany conversation can lead to opportunities in the future."
Why haven't we worked together?
Ryan Bradley, partner at personal injury law firm Koester & Bradley, LLP, understands that making an advantageous connection starts with addressing why you're both there. So why not cut right to the chase?
"The reason that entrepreneurs and founders attend networking events is to generate business. I never avoid this fact. After the standard pleasantries, I love to ask people why we haven't worked together before," he says. "It is an offbeat question, particularly if you are a little outside your direct niche, but it allows the conversation to flow in a positive direction toward a goal: business!"
What's your favorite book?
You can tell a lot about a person by their hobbies and passions. That's why Zac Johnson, CEO of blogging business Blogger, asks about a personal interest that many entrepreneurs have in common.
"Many people, especially entrepreneurs, are very passionate about reading. When it comes to books, people like to discuss what they've read recently, along with their favorite books," Johnson says. "This is a great way to open a conversation with someone, and it helps you better understand their interests and passions in the process."
What's your biggest challenge right now?
Running a successful business isn't all fun and games, and Sam Miller, founder of strength training and performance measurement technology platform Boston Biomotion, likes to confront this. Asking someone about their biggest challenge opens up an honest dialogue that could prove to be mutually beneficial.
"I prefer this question as a way of getting some depth. This often leads right to learning more about what they do and where they're at, and also seeing if there's any way I can be helpful," he says. "The question is pretty disarming, so it requires quickly establishing some trust and comfort, but some of the best conversations and follow-ups I've had have come from this."
What's your dream?
"I always like to ask people what their big dream is and if they are currently doing it," says Dalia MacPhee, CEO of clothing brand DALIA MACPHEE. This goes beyond simply learning about their current business ventures and demonstrates that you value their passions, too.
"There's never been a time when I've asked that question that someone's eyes didn't light up and a meaningful conversation ensue," she says. "I'd rather skip the small talk and be the person that was remembered at an event for helping to light a fire under someone."