Have you ever been uncomfortable in a business networking event and don’t know quite what to say? Small talk is just the concept of finding common ground, and finding out a little bit more about the other person. And instead of putting them on the defensive, or coming across as sounding just like everyone else, suddenly the conversation with you becomes fun.
A hidden benefit of small talk is that you create a friendship bond with that person. The other person feels valued as a person and not just a lead, because you took a moment to ask about their personal likes and interests. They also feel comfortable with you, and the conversation will naturally lead into business, since you are at a business networking event. So relax and get to know the people around you. They’ll be much more likely to work with you and refer you out to others.
When networking, never lead with “What do you do?”, choose one of these icebreakers instead:
1. “What is your connection to this event?”
You’ll be surprised how quickly this question reveals mutual contacts and connections. It’s a lot better question than the typical, “Have you been to this event before?”
2. What was your first job? (which may lead to How did you end up in this job?)
The majority of people did not take a straight line path to their current job. It is interesting to hear how their career twisted and turned to get them where they are today.
3. What is your favorite thing about your job?
This question gives you valuable insight into just what role this person enjoys the most, and you can use that information to relate to that person through this role.
4. What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
You’ll quickly find out about family, activities, clubs, civic organizations, dreams, and special interests that the other person has, and most likely there will be a common interest among the answers that you can link to. This type of talk creates friendship bonds quickly.
5. That’s a great piece of jewelry (jacket, tie) you’re wearing. Tell me where you found it!
Lots of people now wear a “statement piece,” an accessory that is bold, unusual, or dramatic. And there’s usually a great story behind it. It’s a great opener and much different than the usual business question. You’ll have this person talking in no time.
6. What is something on your bucket list you really want to do if you could?
This question leads to sometimes outrageous fun, as you discover what a person’s secret desires are. When you two start laughing and talking excitedly about the topic you’re passionate about, watch out, because others are going to want to join you. Include the others with this question. It naturally leads to open conversation about other things, including business.
Bonus Tip: Avoid highly volatile or opinionated topics such as religion and politics.