Personally, I don’t mind it if I’m in the right frame of mind — feeling outgoing, in a good mood, have a sense of purpose at the event, that sort of thing.
But if I’m not in that frame of mind? I fall back on conversation starters. It helps me get a conversation going even when every fiber of my being is telling me to go back to my hotel room. Here are some of the conversation starters my coworkers and I have tried that worked well. Bookmark them for your next networking event. (Or night out, you scoundrel.)
This question plays on the communal confusion that occurs at every event. No one knows what they’re doing. And the ones that do will revel at the chance to be the one “in the know.”
Of course, this group actually has to look like they’re having a good time.
Good news: The answer is almost always “yes.”
Whether it’s a food or a beverage, this question can offer a few different answers — whether a description, a comment on the quality, or where they got it.
Or Boston. Or Austin. Or St. Louis. Or whatever city or state their attire and accessories are sporting.
If they know other people, your circle expands. If they don’t, you generate some empathy as a fellow lone wolf.
If they’re a local, you’ll probably get them rattling off about their favorite spots. If not, you both can bumble about for the recommendations you’ve each heard through the grapevine.
Being at the same conference, the sessions and speakers are some of the only guaranteed common ground. It’s a great starting point that can go in a lot of different conversational directions.
If you’re both interested in meeting the same people or seeing the same sessions, this question will help you establish that common ground. If not, you get to learn more about each others’ goals.
This question opens up the conversation to the entire group — the more people chatting, the better.
This works great when you’re waiting in line for a keynote, the bathroom, food, etc.
Start with the first part of the question — but offer up a ride share if the group doesn’t really have a plan.
Be sure to have a quick follow-up if the answer is “no” — like asking about which sessions they plan on attending.
Old-timers will be able to share some insider tips, and first-timers can empathize with you.
Ask someone who was in a common session or talk to explain something to you if you want to do a little ego stroking while you network.
This only works if you actually have an awesome marketing joke — but I wrote a list for you in this blog post, so you’re all set.
This question helps reveal people’s interests — way easier to keep a conversation going if you know a little bit about the person.
This is a spinoff of a pickup line one of my favorite comedians, Pete Holmes, shared on his podcast. His original version was “I’m tired of talking to my friends, what are you guys talking about?” I like it because it’s probably true, and shows an interest in getting to know new people.
It actually works. Provided you have a follow-up so you’re not just staring at each other in silence.
The key to all of these conversation starters is that you have to be ready with a follow-up. This is just your “in” to the conversation — be ready to keep the conversation going, and take it conversation to the next level.
And if all else fails, just ask …
“Shots?” It can’t fail.
(It could definitely fail.)