Almost every place you go today on a need-to or voluntary basis presents an opportunity for you to meet new people. Even if you’re not currently looking for your next career opportunity, it’s always good to be open to expanding your network of professional and personal contacts. The people you meet and the relationships you nurture are often times ones that you can count on when you need them and vice-versa.
All too often, people attend networking events and conferences with one mindset: “What can you do for me?” If you start any conversation with someone you don’t know with this agenda, you’re starting the potential relationship off completely lopsided. Chances are, the person you’ve just met will sense this and not see your intentions as being genuine.
When you ask questions that are more “interview style” such as, “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?” you’re putting that person in a position where they are being subjected to your scrutiny. Their response places them in the position to have to “sell” themselves to you. Although these are typical “icebreaker” questions that many people ask there is another way that will lead you down the path of a more balanced and mutually beneficial relationship.
Aside from the “Hello, what’s your name?” that is to be expected when someone first meet someone or the casual lead-in statements about the weather, sporting event, pop culture story, or newsworthy tidbit, asking someone a thought-provoking and unexpected question that is open-ended is an excellent way to break the ice and put whomever you are speaking to at ease.
Try these 3 great networking questions at your next social event:
“What brings you here?”
There is a lot that you can learn by asking someone that question. While it’s not as direct as asking someone what they do for a living, you can still learn pretty quickly if they are there for work, contributed to the event in some fashion, or there for their own interests outside of their day job. It’s a natural way to open up a conversation and learn more about this individual and as a bonus, if they’ve stated they’ve come with a friend or colleagues, you may have a chance to meet them as well.
“What do you like to do in your spare time (aside from events such as this)?”
People all have varied interests and learning more about them can lead to the discovery of other commonalities you may share with this person. Family, pets, physical activities (sports/fitness), philanthropy/volunteering; the list goes on and on. Having something in common with someone is an easy way to keep the conversation going and have a way to connect with them even outside of your initial introduction. They are also more likely to remember you for something you both have in common, especially if it’s something not everyone shares such as rock-climbing or gaming.
“What do you think about…?”
Everyone has an opinion and most people are more than happy to share it, if it’s in the right context. While it’s best to avoid sensitive topics (religion and politics) there are other subject matters you can approach. This is especially easy to ask if you’ve learned something more about their personal lives. Another tried and true way to stage this question is to ask in along with something related to the event itself – the speakers, the location, etc.
When you’re wrapping up the conversation with the person, remember to thank them by their name. It’s a helpful way to solidify their name in your memory so you can recall it again. Something along the lines of “It’s been nice speaking with you Sameem.” Don’t push too hard to get a business card from someone, or present them with yours right away. Let them be the one to ask to connect with you further, if they so choose. That way, you’ll know they enjoyed speaking with you and are open to future opportunities to interact with you. You’ll both be able to go from there with a sense of shared power and balance.