There you are at a professional networking event, chatting with new contacts and (hopefully) making a fantastic impression. Suddenly, silence falls. And you can’t think of a thing to say. Awkward!
It’s bad enough if this happens when you’re among friends, but it’s a thousand times worse when you’re with people who could have a positive or negative effect on your career. So let’s make sure it never does happen to you.
Here are our top 3 successful talking points that will keep the conversation going; and make yourself look good in the process.
Ask people’s opinion of the latest news story, movie/TV show/viral video, or local sports team’s performance. If you don’t know what’s going on, take a few minutes ahead of time to read a newspaper, visit a news website and check out what’s trending on Reddit and Digg.
Stay away, however, from anything intense or personal like politics, religion and health problems. You never know what someone will find offensive, so don’t even go there. Try something like:
“I’ve been reading mixed reviews of the Apple Watch. Are you getting one?”
“Did you catch the Phillies game last night? How do you like their playoff chances?”
“What movie do you think should win the Oscar this year?”
There’s always something to say about the space you’re sharing with your conversation partners. Even if your comment isn’t true, it will get the ball rolling. For example:
“This is a beautiful building. Has it been here a long time?”
“These shrimp are delicious. Have you tried them?”
“I ran into terrible traffic getting here. Did you have a hard time, too?”
The Other Person
The old saying that to be a good conversationalist you must be a good listener is absolutely true; people love to be invited to talk about themselves. It also means less conversational work for you. But it won’t work if you ask “dead end” questions that can be answered yes or no. Instead, word your comments so that the answers will then lead to further discussion.
For networking events, it’s more productive to focus on subjects that will help build your professional relationship with that person. You might ask:
“How did you get interested in your ______ [field/job/company]?”
“Have you always worked in this field, or have you done other things?”
“What did you think of the ______ [presentation/speaker]?”
“What ______ [blogs/discussion groups/websites] in our field do you like best?”
Keep these 3 ideas in the back of your mind as you go into the event, and you’ll always be ready to get the conversation flowing again when it dries up. Plus, you’ll get points for your quick thinking and social skills. That might be just what it takes for the person you’re trying to impress to remember your name!