Walking into a roomful of strangers can be a terrifying experience, especially for an introvert. Doesn’t matter if it’s a social event or a structured networking event or lunch with a group of clients, any of these can be intimidating. I find it helpful to have a strategy, such as “I will find three new people to talk to tonight” or “I will find a particular person who will be there today, and make sure I have a conversation with them.”
The key to keeping the conversation interesting is to not talk about yourself – be prepared with a list of questions that you can ask the other person. Context-specific questions are usually best such as, “How did you hear about this event?” or “Have you heard this speaker before?” You are not here to show off or impress people; you are here to make connections and the easiest way to make an impression is to ask sincere questions that demonstrate your interest in the other person.
In the absence of context-specific questions, it can be handy to memorize a handful of open-ended questions that can spark a conversation or keep the dialogue going strong. Remember everyone’s favorite topic is themselves, so here are 5 questions that work universally in any circumstance:
- Where are you from originally?
- Have you lived here all your life?
- What brought you here?
- Do you have a family?
- What do you do?
- What did you want to be when you were growing up?
That last question seems awkward at first but if you’ve had conversation around the other questions, this one really opens things up and you might be surprised where that talk goes. But also be careful will these. You are asking personal questions and you need to be genuinely interested in the answers.
Remember that networking is a bit like eating lima beans – not too pleasant in the moment but it’s still good for you.