So, you’re hosting—or attending—a networking event. That’s great! Networking is an absolute necessity in today’s business world and there’s new research coming out every day detailing how valuable it is for career advancement, better business opportunities, and increased credibility and awareness.
But no matter how outgoing you are, networking can be difficult (or even downright intimidating). It’s hard to know how to start meaningful conversations with straight-up strangers.
Here are some open-ended networking icebreaker questions to help kick-off conversations at your next event.
1. What brings you here?
Effective networking is all about giving, not getting. Relationships are built on trust, so understanding why someone attends an event is an important part of learning how you—or someone you know—might be able to help them. Learn their objectives and let the conversation flow from there.
2. How long have you been a part of this organization?
Sometimes, less is more. This simple, easy-to-answer question can help people feel more comfortable and give them a break from repeating their perfectly rehearsed—but probably overused—elevator pitch. It helps you get to know them a little better and gives you a hint about how long they’ve been interested, involved, or working within the industry.
3. What are some of your favorite projects you’re working on right now?
People like to talk about things they’re passionate about. And asking them about their favorite projects helps you get to know them better personally and professionally because you’re learning about their interests and their experience. And guess what? You might just find you have something in common.
4. What are some challenges you’re facing right now?
As much as we’d all like to pretend like things are going perfectly, the business world is a competitive place and there’s always room to do better. This relatively vague question opens the door for people to talk about challenges their company is facing, challenges they’re facing, or anything in between. Take note of the things they talk about and think about how you can be of help, now or in the future. Have you experienced something similar? Do you know of any solutions? Do you know someone who does?
5. Do you know anyone else here?
This is a great question to get a feel for how comfortable the other person is. If they have a lot of coworkers or friends at the event, they’re probably not as nervous as people who are there by themselves. If they do know other people, ask them to introduce you after you’ve had a chance to chat. If they don’t, they’ll be glad you approached them!
6. What do you do?
It’s tried, tested, simple, and straightforward. People expect this question so it’s a safe bet to start a conversation. In just a few seconds you’ll have an understanding of their position and company. Follow it up with questions about how long they’ve been there and what brought them to the job. Hearing about a person’s journey is always interesting and can give you a better idea of their background.
7. What do you like to do when you’re not working or networking?
In case you don’t know by now, networking is about more than selling yourself or securing your next job. In order to build real business relationships, you really have to take the time to get to know someone, even if it isn’t always work-related.
8. How’s it going?
If networking to you feels forced, start with something simple and conversational. After all, you should always treat people like people, not a potential resource. Ask about their day, if they’ve tried the appetizers, and if they’ve attended an event like this before. Not every conversation has to start with a set purpose. This is a social event after all.
We hope this list of networking icebreaker questions will help ease any awkwardness you may have felt approaching people in the past and set you up for success in the future. When in doubt, throw a compliment out!