Networking is hard, but there are things you can do to make it easier for yourself.
Going to a conference or event soon and need some help networking? Or, maybe you’re looking for some tips on conversation starters to avoid the awkward pause when you first meet someone?!
If you said yes to any of those questions, then I hope this post helps you prepare for your next event. In this post, I share a list of questions and conversation starters that you can use to talk to other participants and presenters at the next conference or event you attend.
Attending conferences and events can be HARD work, especially if you’re there to network and be more than just a warm bum in a chair. (Rarely do I ever get to just be a warm bum in a chair, but when I do, it’s soooo sweet!)
Personally, in my line of work, networking is NOT one of my favourite things to do, but it’s important for my career. Not only to my current employer (in maintaining client relationships and building new client relationships) but also to me personally, if later down the road I’m looking for a new place to work . It might be helpful to know someone already at a new workplace that I apply to. It could even be the reason why I get the job.
Helpful Tip: People often move around in their careers and don’t stay with the same employer forever. They will remember you and how you made them feel. This means that it’s important to maintain relationships because you never know who is going to be where when you apply for that next job or your dream job. Treat everyone you meet with respect and kindness.
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Networking is easy when you're passionate about the event or conference topic
I find it “easy” to network when I’m passionate about the subject matter of the conference or event. It’s as if talking to others about the subject matter comes naturally and you don’t have to try so hard to meet other people because you’re genuinely interested, want to be there and want to learn. I LOVE noticing when I’m passionate about something or doing something that brings me pure joy.
Myself and Mr. OYP (“Owning Your Profession”) are going to FinCon this year, and I expect the networking to be relatively easy because we’re going to a personal finance conference and we LOVE personal finance. If you’re going to FinCon also, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a DM on Instagram – we would love to meet you there!
Actionable Tip: When you notice that you’re passionate about something or when you do something that brings you pure joy, try to do more of that in your life.
However, there are also conferences and events that I attend where I’m not that passionate about the subject matter. I might be interested in the subject matter but not truly passionate about the subject matter. In those situations, I think that networking is much harder to do. One reason for that might be because conversing on the topic does not come as naturally to me. I have to work harder.
So, what do you do in those situations, where you have to network but can’t find the words to start?! (Keep reading…)
Well, you create a cheat sheet or list of "go-to" networking questions and memorize what you can from the list before the networking event!
Limit the FREE drinks you have when you're networking
For those harder situations, I’ve created a cheat sheet or list of “go-to” questions to just get myself started in being able to talk to people at the conference and speak to them with ease — mostly to avoid the awkward pauses.
I’m pretty good now at managing the awkward pauses. I’m really good when I’ve had 1 glass of wine, but after about a glass and a half of wine, I start to be less good at it but think that I’m actually really good at it.
Actionable Tip: At a networking event or conference, limit how much alcohol you drink. The drinks might be free, but you’re reputation is worth so much more and isn’t something you want to risk for free drinks. At work networking events, I limit my wine intake to 1 glass and at a social event (e.g. Christmas Party), I limit my drink intake to 2 glasses of wine.
This rule has served me well. So much so, that people think I was such a goodie goodie. If only they knew … or maybe not.
Rule of Thumb: Be curious.
I attended a networking seminar, and the speaker said, “be curious” … be genuinely curious about the people you meet. That’s great advice, but how do you IMPLEMENT that? How do you be curious and what does that mean?
For me, I’m curious about other people and do want to learn about them, but then I ask myself:
- what do I start by asking them?
- what questions flow naturally and doesn’t make the conversation seem forced?
- what questions are okay to ask and which aren’t?
When I attend conferences, it’s normally with other lawyers, some judges and presenters with various backgrounds. When I speak at conferences, I’m usually meeting and networking with a specific field of professionals. And, sometimes it’s a mixed bag of people with a wide variety of backgrounds (e.g. charity event). If this is your first time to the site, you can read about my story here.
Have a plan for the awkward silence.
I’m a planner, and I like to have a plan in life. So, when I attend conferences or events, I also want to have a plan for those awkward silences or even just to start a conversation with someone at my lunch table, in the sign-in line up, in the washroom (yup, we even network in the washroom) and at the networking reception. If you’re also a planner, you should check out my post How to Plan Your Best Life & Achieve Your Goals.
So, I asked myself are there some “go to” questions that I can ask other participants at a conference about? I remember also Googling this when I was attending networking events in law school and was unable to find articles that were directly helpful and on-point. So, I’m also writing this post to fill that gap.
I’ve been to quite a few conferences lately and have complied a list (see below) to help you network at the next conference or event you attend.
A Person You've Never Met: Questions to Ask & Conversation Starters
When you meet someone for the first time, I think the questions you can ask relate to establishing a relationship with that person and getting to know them.
The key for the list of questions below, is that you actually have to listen to the answer to the questions you ask. Because it’s a conversation, you can’t just run through the list of questions as they are. It’s not a static list, rather you have to adapt it for the conversation you’re having by listening to what the person is actually saying.
Actionable Tip: Listen to the answers to the questions you ask the person, as you may want to explore something they say further. If you don’t listen to the answers to your questions, you may find yourself in a situation where the person knows you’re not actually listening to them. Be careful, it’s embarrassing when this happens.
Here are topic areas to explore and questions you can ask when you meet a new person at a conference or event:
FREE CHEAT SHEET OF NETWORKING QUESTIONS & CONVERSATION STARTERS
Think about making connections with the person on different levels. For example connect:
- on a presentation or speaker at the conference that you both found inspiring or was your favourite.
- on home town/where you’re both from
- places you’ve both lived
- places you’ve have both worked
- on people you both know whether in a personal or professional way
- the food that’s being served at the conference or event – is there a candy bar, a dessert you both love, or is the food no good?
- how they got to the conference and how/when they’ll be going back home
- favourite place(s) to vacation or favourite place to travel to
- whether they have a family ** this one is kind of a tricky one, so tread carefully and be graceful about it!
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Here are questions you can ask when you're seeing someone again that you've already met at a conference or event:
Sometimes seeing the same people at the same conference or event every year is more difficult than meeting someone new whom you know nothing about. I think this is true because you’re expected (to a certain extent) to remember to have met them and get bonus points for every thing you can remember that they told you last year. It makes you look good – like you were actually listening to them – when you can remember things they told you last year and follow-up on them.
Ideally, you don’t want to ask questions you were told the answers to the last time and you want to try and follow up on information you heard from the person the last time you saw them.
I find my memory isn’t that great anymore and that I have to WRITE everything down in order to remember it, especially a year later.
Actionable Tip: If you go to a yearly conference or event and see the same people every year (e.g. golf tournament or silent auction), create a spreadsheet or note in your phone or start a page in your notebook to write down the names of who you met and bullet points for each of them of what they told you. Then, the next year you go to the conference or event, review that list and you’ll look like a superstar! People will be so impressed you remember their names and what they told you last year!
It’s not hard to do, but it does require discipline to actually make yourself write out that list AFTER the conference or event and then to review it again BEFORE the conference or event.
Although you might be in a different career than me, I think that questions you can ask at networking events or conferences are transferable and can be adjusted to specific situations.
So for your next conference or event, print out the list of questions above,save this pin or save this article in Evernote or to your phone and come back to it the next time you find yourself at a networking function.