How to Make Great Conversation at Networking Events

I love networking conversations -- said nobody, ever. 

Many entrepreneurs look at networking events as necessary evils. We need to attend them in order to move our businesses forward, but we dread the awkward silences and making small talk with strangers.

What if you had some tools to improve the quality of your networking conversations? Maybe make them more interesting and -- gasp -- even fun? Here are some ways to do that.

1. Start by asking a slightly different question

PLEASE don’t start your conversation with, “Hi! What do you do?”

Not only is that boring, but it’s off-putting. After exchanging names, consider asking one of these questions:

  • “What made you decide to come to this event?” This is a great way to ease into a new conversation. You might learn that this person knows a lot of the people attending (and can possibly introduce you to some of them), or has insight into something useful about the event that you weren’t aware of. Either way, you’ll get more out of your experience just by asking this question.  
  • “What's one reason you've been successful?” This is my favorite conversation starter. I’m leading our discussion with a compliment (acknowledging that this person is successful), and I’m also showing interest in and learning about the other person, while hopefully hearing a tip that can help me be more successful, too.
  • “Are you from here or did your business bring you here?” This line of conversation is the most low-key of these business questions. It allows you to gain more personal information, which in turn will lead you to deeper conversations. If the person is from the area, you can ask how things have changed in the last 20 years. If the person has moved here for business, you can find out what about the location was so appealing. This type of discussion also provides opportunities to find out about families, which can lead to conversations about schools, sports, and activities.  

2. Show some vulnerability

Being vulnerable in a personal situation is daunting. Showing vulnerability in a business situation can be downright scary. But did you know that it can be very powerful, according to Dr. Brené Brown? She is a research professor at the University of Houston and the author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

In her book, Brown describes vulnerability as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." Instead of looking weak when we do or say something that is uncomfortable (being vulnerable) Brown says, we are actually showing a great deal of courage. 

As reported in the Atlantic, a 2018 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology concluded that people tended to describe others showing vulnerability as “desirable and “good.”

This means that showing some vulnerability can really open up a discussion. 

 Here’s an example: “I don’t usually like these events because I’m an introvert. But I’ve been told they are a good way to help my business grow. Have you found ways to make these events useful?”

3. Use the Ben Franklin effect

This is based on an incident from Ben Franklin’s life, which you can read about here.

Here is the rule:

You are more likely to receive a favor from someone if they have already done one for you.

Sounds weird, right? But studies have proven this, too. 

Here’s a great way to use this effect in networking conversations: Ask for feedback on your 30-second introduction.

This is a fun way to turn your 30-second introduction, or “elevator pitch” idea, on its head. First, come prepared with a couple of versions of your business pitch. You can check out some ways to do that in one of my previous posts.

Next, say something like, “This whole 30-second pitch idea is so nerve-wracking. Would you do me a favor and listen to mine and offer feedback?”

In this way, you’ve provided your pitch to someone, and you’re also getting feedback on how to make it better. Great, right?

Next Steps

Making great conversation is just one aspect of a successful networking experience. My friends at Alice have created a guide to networking, that includes these sections:

  • Be prepared to make an impression
  • Strengthen your online presence
  • Attend business events
  • Follow up

While you’re done checking out the guide, take a look around. Alice is a free platform that helps historically underrepresented business owners start and grow their business. The platform, powered by AI, curates specific articles, resources, and tools to its members.

Make Your Next Conversation Amazing

The next time you go to a networking event, you’ll be ready to connect more deeply with those you meet. Here’s hoping that your conversations lead you to even greater success!



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