Much to my surprise, at a fancy networking event last month, a stylish and super-articulate friend commented, “I just don’t know what to say to these people, am I supposed to ask ‘How is the cheese?’”
Even for the most outwardly-savvy, starting a conversation with a complete stranger is scary, yet it’s a business and career-building skill that can literally catapult your success. Here are a few tips to help you along.
Go in with the right attitude. Like most things, it starts with the appropriate attitude. While not many networking events are as lovely and fun as The Southern C Summit, you can pretend each one is an A-list party where all you have to do is show up and grace a few people with your witty repartee. Tip: act excited to meet someone and they will be excited to meet you!
Keep perspective. If someone has taken the trouble to be at any type of social event, they want to meet people, but chances are they feel even more awkward than you do. Remember, even if the most outwardly savvy can inwardly feel like a wallflower, think of how those feel that aren’t as savvy. Just last week at a Chamber of Commerce event held at the Aquarium, I saw a few individuals up close staring at the fish. That made me smile as I knew exactly what they were up to….avoiding making small talk with strangers!
Make the first move. We can’t all wait for someone to approach us, so make the first move and help both of you out! To get you started, here are 14 conversations starters – two all-purpose questions and 12 seasonal conversations starters, one for each month of the year. Seriously you can review this list on your phone and ask each new person the exact same question! You can even start each question by telling the other(s) your answer, which gives them time to think of an answer and helps them to relax.
- What brings you here today/this evening/so early?
- What is keeping you busy these days? (this one works everywhere from flights to family gatherings)
- January: What’s your take on New Year’s resolutions? Me, I never make them, I just write a list of goals in my journal.
- February: What do you do for Valentine’s Day or are you a V is for vodka kind of person? Personally, I’m a V Day minimalist. (After Valentine’s Day into early March you can ask, “How do you get through the winter? Me, I spend a lot of time at the pool at the gym or Zumba and have so many candles lit at home the local fire station keeps checking on me.”)
- March: I am so happy about the time change. How does having to get up early affect you?
- April: Well they say April is the cruelest month, how is this month going for you so far?
- May: What is your favorite thing about this most beautiful time of the year?
- June: Yikes! Can you believe school is already out? What do you do to cool off in the summer heat?
- July: What are your vacation or staycation plans this summer? I travelled so much earlier this year I’m home all summer.
- August: Wow, it’s been a hot and fun summer. I can’t decide if I’m sad or excited about it coming to an end. How is your summer going?
- September: Research shows that SEC football is a religion in the South. What’s your relationship to football like?
- October: What’s the most creative Halloween costume you’ve seen? Last year at a party a woman draped a British flag around her shoulders, hung an Exit sign around her neck to represent Brexit. That was cool.
- November: What good things have happened to you lately?
- December: What’s your secret for making it through the holiday without having a nervous breakdown? I always tempted to drink too much but naps are helpful.
Conversations make a team sport where the objective is to uncover commonalities. If your questions begin to feel like an interrogation, move on to chat with someone else!
Social events hold limitless potential. You never know what kind of fascinating people you’re going to meet. All you have to do to take advantage of this opportunity is strike up conversations with new-to-you people. Have fun with it!