For many, starting a conversation with someone new at a networking event causes much anxiety. People worry about what to say, how the person will respond, and/or what to do if the person is not interested in talking. Below are a few suggestions to remove the anxiety and enable seamless conversations.
Utilize Name Tags
Name tags can provide a wealth of information about an attendee in addition to his or her first and last name. Name tags sometimes contain title, company, or degree (such as Ph.D.). Some events organized by networking organizations differentiate name tags based upon colors for members and non-members. An event that I attended this past week at my Alma Mater included graduation years for attendees who graduated from the school. This information provides a treasure trove of opening line possibilities. Consider the following examples:
Company Name: X Biotech
In this situation, an opening line could be: How long have you worked at X Biotech? What is your role at X Biotech? What does your company do? I saw your company recently received funding, it must be a great time, right? I usually advise against yes/no questions, but in some cases, like this one, you can build rapport with this question since you let the attendee know that you are familiar with their company. Hopefully in this scenario, you receive a response other than just “yes” to lead to a longer conversation.
Name tag title: Vice President, Medical Affairs
Opening lines in this situation could be: How long have you worked in the medical affairs area? What initially sparked your interest in medical affairs? What advice would you give someone looking to work in this area? This question is valuable especially if you are a student looking to learn about career options.
Educational level: Ph.D.
Assuming you are a current Ph.D. student or thinking about a Ph.D. degree, asking questions about a person’s degree can help break the ice. What is your Ph.D. in? Where did you study? What are you working on now? You could also say something like: I am a current masters student looking to pursue a Ph.D., do you have any advice for me?
Members vs. non-members
For events that differentiate members and non-members via name tag color, size, or other notation, you could ask: What do you find most valuable about the organization? How long have you been a member? After you talk for a little bit, you could also ask, are there any other members who you think would be valuable to meet?
Since you already have something in common (your school), build off of this. What did you study? What are you doing now? How did you find X School beneficial for your career development?
A few other questions:
Have you been to one of these events before? What brought you here tonight? What are you looking to learn at this event?
Tailor your opening lines depending upon the situation. People enjoy talking about themselves, so find ways to let them take the lead. You will learn a lot and start to build meaningful connections.