Walk up to other professionals and say hello. It sounds simple, but it really is the easiest way to start a conversation. Have a good handshake and a confident smile. Start with “Hi! I’m …” and give the other person a chance to engage.
Consider using your business card to introduce your company or profession. You’ve already made a personal connection at this point, and your partner can look at the card while you explain what your company does and the services you offer.
Ask the Right Questions
“What company do you work for? How do you like it?” Invite them to open up about their career and reasons for attending the event. Ask follow-up questions about the areas they seem excited about.
“Have you been to an event like this before?” This question prompts the other party to talk about their past experiences, either at the current event or at others.
“What did you think of the speaker?” SHRM is full of conferences, displays, and seminars, all of which are great conversational material.
“Do you know anywhere to get lunch around here?” If you really don’t know where to start, ask them about food. It’s a quick way to get someone to open up, and you might even hear about an amazing new restaurant.
Find Common Interests
The point of networking is to turn strangers into business contacts. You might be surprised at how much you have in common with the other professionals in the room.
Talk about the speaker, the purpose of the event, or your shared industry. Build the conversation off of topics that engage the other person; if they seem bored by the presenter but happy to talk about the local market, run with it. Don’t let a conversation stall out because you feel stuck to a script.
Use the things you have in common to highlight features that are unique or interesting about the other person. Show engagement with the accomplishments and goals that they feel like sharing. Sometimes your greatest common feature is a shared love for the craft.
Invite Someone to Walk with You
Walking and talking can forge an instant connection. Invite a new friend to join you on the way to the next session or the snack table. This can be a great way to continue an existing conversation without missing the next stage of the conference.
You can also use this approach to draw a wallflower into the event. Some professionals don’t know what to say at a networking event, either; if you notice someone trying and failing to make a connection, invite them to accompany you for a short while. The confidence boost will help them mingle with others after you reach your destination.
Plan to Reconnect
As you’re wrapping up your conversation, suggest continuing it in the future. Conferences are large, and you probably won’t see each other again at the same event.
Don’t forget to mention why you want to reconnect. You might be interested in their product, want advice on getting a job at their company in the future, or feel that your services would be an excellent match for the project they are working on. Leave the other person with a relevant reason to remember you.
There’s one essential but often-forgotten step to any networking event: you need to follow up! Place that pocketful of business cards on your desk where you know you’ll see them. Send out emails to everyone you had a connection with. Mention a few points to help them remember who you are. Finish with an offer to catch lunch or work together in the future.
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