10 conversation starters you can use in any networking situation

If you want to advance in your career, you’re going to have to network – live, in person.

I know. I can hear you groaning from here. Networking can be an awkward nightmare. But buck up. It doesn’t have to be.

Here’s the thing: If you want to get ahead, you have to meet people. People help the people they like. They give jobs to the people they like, and tell their friends about jobs they think those friends might be suited for. Also, the number of jobs that go unadvertised is hard to guess (because they go unadvertised), but some estimate it to be as high as 80%. If you want access to the hidden job market, you have to know people.

And networking doesn’t just happen at official “networking events.” Every social situation is a potential networking event. You never know who you will meet at a dinner party, birthday, wedding, concert, or fundraiser. That lonely looking guy standing by himself in the corner might be the CEO of some amazing company. Say hello.

Not sure what to say? Here’s a list of 10 simple opening lines you can use to start conversations with strangers.

“I love your shoes/shirt/tie/earrings.” My favourite icebreaker. Everyone loves a compliment. Be free and generous with them. Always.

“Since we’re both standing here alone, I think I should introduce myself. I’m so and so. What’s your name?” Most people are happy to have someone to talk to. I promise.

“I don’t know anyone here, so I thought I would introduce myself.” Just walk up to an individual or group, and say hi. They will probably make an effort to include you.

“Who do you know here, what’s your connection?” People in common are good places to start.

“What do you do?” This much-maligned opener is, in my opinion, actually a great question. I love to talk about what I do, and am interested in the professional lives of others as well.

“Have you tried the food? Is it good?” Food talk is great. Everyone eats.

“What did you think of the show/speaker/dancers/singer?” If there was any type of entertainment, people will probably have an opinion about it.

“Hey, don’t I know you? Are you a friend of Steve’s?” When you later become best friends, you can admit you were bluffing.

“The weather sure has been [insert meteorologically appropriate adjective] lately, hasn’t it?” Hey, it’s a classic for a reason. For something more amusing, I like to use, “We’ve had lots of weather lately haven’t we?” It makes people laugh, and they have no choice but to agree.

“Hi. How is your day going?” It’s so simple it’s almost diabolical! Their day is probably going well or not so well. If they want to talk, they’ll tell you about it.

Are these phrases obvious? Yes. Because they should be.

People often make the mistake of overthinking social interaction and putting undue pressure on themselves. If you look this sort of thing up online you’ll find cutesy, quirky suggestions that are supposed to make you seem creative and interesting like, “Tell me three unlikely things you did today.” Do NOT do this to people. Just don’t. This type of question is annoying because the likelihood of me having done three unlikely things in one day is pretty much zero, so I feel put on the spot, and I feel like I have to work to come up with an answer. You don’t want others to feel like talking with you is work. You want them to feel at ease.

Everyone feels a little awkward in social situations. It’s not just you. So, flip your focus from wanting to be included to wanting to include others, and you will find that they are (almost) always grateful that someone made an effort.

And don’t forget to exchange cards or social media information. So, it’s not all for nothing.

The easiest way to be interesting is to be interested. Period. Show an interest in people, in the things those people are interested in, and in life, and you will ace networking. Because that is really all it takes.

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