Getting the conversation started

One of the things I love about attending networking events are those spontaneous conversations that just happen – where you might walk away inspired with a new marketing idea to try; maybe an ingenious solution to a long-standing problem or simply having had a good chat with someone who understands your business.

But to get to that point you have to get the conversation started in the first place, and even though I have been networking for 17 years now it can still be daunting walking into a room full of people and realising there is not a single person there I know.

So, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I say/do in such a situation. I make no claims that these are at all original or inspirational – quite the opposite – you want a gentle way into a conversation, not to make feel people they are being interviewed on Question Time!

1. Head for the refreshments 

There is always a conversation to be had over the refreshments. Is that thermos tea or coffee? Don’t those cookies look good or just simply ask someone if they are having tea or coffee and pour it for them.

2. Talk networking

The easiest topic ever to talk about at a networking event is…networking!

Have they been to this event before? If so ask them about the meeting – What’s the format? How long have they been attending? What do they like about the group?

Do they do much other networking? Which other groups do they attend? What type of format do they prefer?

3. Ask about their business

Yes, I know it is obvious but we are there to find out about everyone’s business so ask someone what they do. Have a few follow up questions ready – Where are they based? How long have they been in business? How did they come to start their business? It doesn’t have to be deep you are just getting the conversation going.

Important note here – be prepared to describe your business too – a brief couple of sentences that are simple to understand and easy to remember.

4. Moving on

So, you have had a nice chat and got to know the other person but you know you need to speak to other people as well. How do you move on? Well, you simply say so. “It’s been lovely chatting to you but we both need to go and meet other people.”

5. Introducing yourself to people  

And then you realise there is still no one else there you know so what I do is look round for a group of people who do not appear to be having too intense a conversation and walk up to them with a smile and say “Hi I’m Mel I don’t think we’ve met before…”

6. Don’t overthink it 

The final bit of advice I would share is that networking events are not like normal (maybe scary) social situations – anyone else share my horror of large parties?

Everyone is there because we want to meet other local business people so we want to talk to people we have never met before… and if you can manage a smile as well even better.