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February 1, 2016 // 6:30 AM

5 Tried-and-True Networking Openers for Business Events

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I’m not a shy person. In fact, every week I deliver speeches to groups of 10 to 10,000 people. But when it comes to networking events -- mingling with people I don’t know -- I become painfully reserved. Many of you can probably relate.

Being able to have a conversation with a perfect stranger will boost your confidence and increase your chances of making your networking time well spent. To make it easier, here are five overarching categories from which you can create an opening statement or two to help you meet more people at these events, along with a few ideas to get you thinking what might work for you.

Introduce Yourself With Confidence

The next time you see someone standing by themselves, just walk right up, reach out your hand, and say, “Hello. I’m ____ with _____. Nice to meet you.” Most people will reciprocate. But some -- those with poor social skills -- might not. If that’s the case, follow up with, “And you are?”

Then, get the ball rolling.

Five Categories of Conversation Starters

1) What’s the biggest _____?

  • “What’s the biggest success you had last year?”
  • “What’s the biggest opportunity you see for your business this coming year?
  • “What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing this coming year?”

2) Why are you here?

  • “What made you come to this event today?” or “What brought you here?”
  • “Do you come here often?” (You can have fun with this one.)
  • “Why did you decide to join this organization?”

3) What is your goal today?

  • “What is your goal for today’s meeting? What would make the meeting a success for you?”
  • “What’s your goal for tonight? I have an idea. How about I help you reach your goal and maybe you can help me reach mine. Deal?”

4) Someone to meet?

  • “Is there someone here you want to meet? Maybe I can help make that happen.”
  • “I’m new to this group. If you were in my shoes, who would you be trying to meet?”

5) Pure Fun

  • “Hello. I’m Bill Cates with Referral Coach International. How do you like me so far?”
  • “Hello. I’m Bond. James Bond with Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
  • “Hello, I’m Bill Cates with Referral Coach International. I’m new to this group. It seems that every group has a couple people to avoid at all costs. Tell me… who might that be with this group?”
  • “What’s the worst business advice anyone has ever given to you?”
  • I'll be honest, the only person I know here is the bartender, and I just met him two minutes ago. Mind if I introduce myself?
  • “Did you lose a roll of $100 bills with a rubber band around them? I wanted to return the rubber band.”

Practice these conversation starters with your colleagues if you need to get more comfortable. Remember that most great conversation starters are questions that invite the other person to share information about them with you. And finally, if it’s natural for you, don’t be afraid to infuse a little fun into the process.

The key to successful networking is simple -- be confident, curious, and human.

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