Let’s face it. Networking is tough – on or offline; via email, Inmail (LinkedIn) or other social media, like Facebook or Twitter; or the dreaded in-person networking situation. To help you out, I have 10 conversation starters that will work almost everywhere with almost anyone.
Use them to get connected and to get the conversation going between you and the person you admire or just simply want to get to know. I’ll leave the rest to you, as I believe you’re switched on enough to take it from there.
“I really liked your last blog post.”
Blogging is hard work. It is a very creative process and it requires consistency to be effective. Most bloggers love feedback and saying that you liked their work can be a good way to get the two of you talking. I strongly suggest that you refrain from saying that you disagree with something he/she wrote, because it is a much riskier strategy and can really put people off. People tend to remember us more often for what we did wrong than right and you don’t want to be remembered for an off-putting conversation starter. The “I really liked …” approach usually works better since few people are immune to flattery, even if they think they are.
Join in on an existing conversation.
There is nothing wrong with joining in an existing conversation. When you see a group of people gathered around and engaged in a conversation, don’t let that keep you away. Walk up, stand at the edge of the group, listen and observe, and if you have something genuine to contribute wait for an opening and jump in. If you just stand nearby, chances are the group will gradually open up to include you. It takes practise and it requires stamina to stand your ground for at least a few minutes. Avoid fiddling with your mobile or looking self-conscious. It turns people off.
“Are you working on another / a new project? What’s your next project?”
Most people love to talk about what they’re working on or planning. This doesn’t apply to everyone, so this will be effective often, but not always. However, this one only works if you have a backup subject ready in case you hit a person who doesn’t like talking about works in progress. If not, queue awkward silence….
“I found further information about something you’re interested in.”
I enjoy following leaders in my industry and I like to walk up to them when I get the rare chance to meet with them at events or even in interactive webinars. I shared a useful finding of mine about an industry software with an expert during a webinar in October 2015. He was surprised and stopped his webinar routine for a moment, discussed my information with the group and we even ended up connecting on LinkedIn. He is now a regular reader of my blogs and he regularly shares them with his followers.
“I really liked your presentation.”
No matter where the presentation takes place, online or offline, saying that you enjoyed listening to them will win you points. But, don’t use this approach if it isn’t true.
“Can I ask your advice?”
Most people like to share their experience and knowledge, and asking for advice is a genuine way to get someone talking with you. One approach is to ask what advice they would give a young person who is facing a challenge and wants to succeed in their profession. (You can always invent a nephew or niece on whose behalf you’re asking the question) However, I prefer that you seek advice you want on your own behalf. Just ask for that – it will make you more likeable.
“Where did you get the idea for…?”
If the person you want to connect with is an innovator or thought leader or just simply a good business person, asking where the idea for that product or work came from is likely to work well. Most people enjoy talking about their work, and there’s often a genuine and passionate story behind a good idea. I learned early in my career that nothing bonds people better than passion and shared values.
“May I ask your opinion about…?”
Just about everyone has an opinion about what’s going on or going to happen, and most people love to be asked what their opinions or projections are on almost anything. Asking a person for their predictions or opinions is a great way to get a conversation going.
‘I really like your work.”
Warning ! Only use this conversation starter if you really mean it. If you really haven’t been following someone’s work, don’t pretend that you have. You’ll likely get caught out. This one works with nearly anyone. It tells people you’ve been paying attention to them, and your attention is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
“Can I bring you a beverage?”
Lastly – old school, but very effective. If your target is surrounded by people, he or she may not be able to move away for a refresher drink. Offer to fetch something to drink, even if it’s just a glass of water. If you need one yourself, then it’s even better and more natural. Your offer will create memorable eye contact and, if you are lucky, also a direct conversation starter, even if they don’t take you up on your offer. (A bit like #2)
So, get your networking toolkit out and try some or all of my conversation starters. It is actually fun to practice. Most of all, remember to hunt wisely!