They say that people fear public speaking more than they fear dying in a fire. That sounds pretty extreme, but I’ve seen it seen it first-hand at my Toastmasters club. Many beginning speakers are visibly pale and shaking, clutching the lectern with white knuckles, terrified of making fools of themselves. Of course, once they get a few speeches under their belts, they get more comfortable with speaking, and it’s not so scary any more.
Newbie networkers may also feel intimidated for some of the same reasons – fear of failure or embarrassment – at the thought of starting a conversation with a total stranger at a networking event. They find themselves standing next to someone at the bar or in the buffet line, but they don’t know what to say. Negative self-talk kicks in… “What if they don’t want to talk to me? What if I say the wrong thing? How do I approach them without sounding like a creep or an idiot?”
That’s okay. It’s perfectly normal to feel a little tongue-tied when face to face with someone you’ve never met – even if you’re dressed in your business best and wearing a name tag.
So how do you start that conversation? Try some of these opening lines to break the ice and get beyond Hello!
Talk about the event
- What brings you here?
- Is this your first time at this event?
- Do you attend a lot of these events?
- Do you live locally, or did you travel to get here?
- What do you think of the conference so far?
- I see you’re a member here. How long have you been a member? OR: I see you’re not a member, are you thinking of joining?
Comment on the speaker
- Have you heard the speaker before? I’m looking forward to her talk.
- I really liked the keynote speaker this morning. He always has great content.
Check out the name badge
- I see you have your own company/work for ABC Corporation. Tell me more about that.
- That is an awesome name badge! Where did you get it?
Talk about food/drink
- Are you from around here? Where are good places to eat nearby?
- Comment on their food choices… “Those tacos look awesome! How are they?”
- Have you been to the buffet yet? What do you recommend?
- Mind if I share your table?
- Isn’t this weather great/terrible?
- Sports talk – What did you think about the _______ game last night?
- Compliments are a great conversation starter (as long as they are sincere and specific): “I really like your tie/shoes/purse.”
- Is that the new iPhone?
Or you can always fall back on the classic: “Hi, my name is _____. Nice to meet you.”
Obviously, not all of these lines will be right for you. Stick with the ones that feel natural to you and edit them to sound like something you might actually say. Fill in the blanks as needed. But don’t over-rehearse! Reciting them verbatim will make you sound like a robot.
Once you’ve broken the ice, don’t stop there! Listen to what your new friend is saying for clues that will lead you naturally to the next part of your conversation. Before you move on, exchange contact information if you want to stay in touch… and of course, don’t forget to follow up later!