How to start a conversation at business networking meetings

by Richard White on November 29, 2011 · 1 comment

When I first got into business networking I felt very awkward and did not say much until someone came and spoke to me. I realised that this would limit the number of people I would meet so I decided that I would learn how to feel more confident about networking. I asked a few people how they first learnt and they recommended a book called ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie. I hated the title but found it really helped in getting business networking conversations going.

As I became more confident in starting a conversation I found it difficult to end a conversation, especially when I was speaking to someone that I was not that interested in talking to. So here is a summary of my business networking tips learnt through trial, error, and much help from Mr Carnegie.

Take charge of starting the conversation

After lots of research and practice I realised that many people were like me. Standing around not knowing what to say and leaving it to someone else to get a conversation going. I discovered that the tried and tested conversation starters in other areas of life worked equally well for business networking:
For example:

  1. Make a comment about the weather
  2. Ask a simple question about travel eg ‘Have you travelled far?’
  3. Ask a simple question about their connection to the event eg ‘Is this your first time at this event?’

If you are really brave then just stick your hand out, smile, and say ‘Hi, My name is xxxxxxx…..’ combined with one of the above suggestions. That is what I generally do now. If you do it sincerely then others will be very pleased you made the effort to break the ice.

Bonus tip – never start a conversation by asking someone what they do for a living.

Take a sincere interest in the other person

People like to talk about themselves. Give them plenty of opportunity to do so and they will normally return the favour. Find something in common that you can comment on or ask further questions about – something they said that you found of interest. Be clear that you are not looking for a cue to launch into a long monologue about yourself or your business. You are taking a sincere interest in the other person. If you do this then they are more likely to take a sincere interest in you and what you do for a living. You just need to let them go first.
If you are really stuck for follow-on comments or question to ask then a really good one is to ask them how they got started in business.

Know when to move on

If you are a little nervous it may be tempting to plant yourself next to someone who has shown a little interest in you. Its important to respect that the other person is there to meet people too and it would be better to have a shorter conversation and agree to meet again.
If you think that you would like to talk to them further then invite them for coffee and ask for their card. For example.
‘I’ve really enjoyed meeting you xxxxx, I need to [get some more coffee, go to the toilet, make a quick call etc] would you be interested in meeting for coffee sometime? I would be very interested to find out more about [you / your company / what you do .

Sometimes you will meet people who you do not want to meet again. For example, they show no interest in you whatsoever or maybe show too much interest in trying to sell you something rather than get to know you. Use the same approach but miss out the invitation to meet for coffee!

The key to effective business networking is to find people where there is a mutual interest to meet again. Follow these business networking tips and you will soon be confidently making useful new business contacts and enjoying the process.

Richard White
Richard White is a sales coach and trainer. He specialises in helping IT consultants win more sales through effective networking. Richard is the author of ‘The Accidental Salesman Networking Survival Guide’ and is a highly sought after speaker on the subjects of networking and soft selling.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Thornton Holmes November 29, 2011 at 09:34

…and when you really find your feet simply walk up to people with your hand outstretched and say ” Hi, this IS a networking meeting so let’s break the ice! My name is ….. and what do you do? :-)


Leave a Comment


Previous post:

Next post: