Opening say: Conversation is key at networking events, but how do you start?

CareerBuilder

Since the majority of networking now is done online, it's easy to have a relationship with someone without ever engaging in an in-person conversation. Why bother talking about the weather when meeting a potential contact before bringing up that friend of a friend who suggested the connection if you can approach someone on LinkedIn and get right to the point? After all, despite the numerous benefits of having a strong network, most people look to build their group of professional peers for one reason: to help them find a job.

While online connections are great, today's job seekers and employees are missing out on a critical element of networking if they don't join professional associations or attend seminars and workshops in their field. But after years of communicating with others in your field via their keyboards, many of today's professionals have trouble making conversation. And for many, the biggest problem starts right at the beginning: what do you talk about?

The aforementioned weather, of course, but there are plenty of other ways to break the ice. We've compiled the following list of conversation starters for those potentially awkward moments when you're meeting others in your field for the first time:

"So, what do you do?"

Sure, it's a cliche but how else are you supposed to find out what people do for a living? The key to asking this question is to listen to the answer, then respond accordingly. There's a good chance you'll have shared interests, contacts and issues that can immediately be fleshed out in a broader conversation.

"Why are you here?"

You'll probably want to phrase it more politely so you don't sound like you're interrogating a suspect but asking someone why they're at an event is an excellent way to find common problems and goals. It's a good bet that they're there for similar reasons to your own -- unless you're just there for the free blueberry scones -- then you're on your own.

"I don't know about you but it took me forever to get here."

People love talking about their commute, whether it was the four-car accident they passed while driving or the guy predicting the end of times on the train. Talking about one's experiences getting from Point A to Point B is universal.

"Those muffins look great. By the way, I'm Michelle."

It's always OK to lead with an innocuous statement and then move directly into the "by the way" transition. Most times, "by the way" is followed by an introduction or affiliation. "This is a beautiful room. By the way, I'm with Acme Corporation." "Those chairs are murder on my back. By the way, I'm Joe." You get the idea.

"That last guy could really talk."

If you're at a seminar, commenting on the presentation or the speakers is always a good way to begin a conversation. And don't feel like you have to go right to the subject matter. A casual comment works just as well.

"People are so dressed up. I guess working from home isn't good for my wardrobe."

A little self-deprecating humor can go a long way, especially if you find someone who looks like they've taken a similar approach to the event.

"How 'bout them White Sox?"

Or Dodgers, Hurricanes, Sixers, Jets, Ravens -- you get the idea -- but usually only in the middle of a good-to-great season. Even non-sports fans can chat about those teams that capture your city's attention during a good run. And if they say they have no interest in the mentioned team, it can still lead to a conversation. "Not a fan, huh? So what kind of things are you into?"

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