Networking has always been a key skill for successful business people. The ability to create a group of people outside your business that could help you find the best suppliers, experts, and even refer clients can make or break a small business. Despite that, schools don’t teach students how to make connections with strangers, how to turn conversations into opportunities. It’s a rare employer that teaches this skill to new recruits. Instead it is left up to us to discover on our own. Sink or swim. Those employees, or managers that are able to learn it quickly can find it has a powerful effect on their career. Small business owners who develop great networking skills often discover that having an “inner circle” of the right people can absolutely turbo-charge their business.Try this collection of great conversation starters next time you go #networking. Click To Tweet

One of the most common issues new networkers face is how to start a conversation. Until you develop this skill, you have to endure hours of awkward silences at networking events. There is only so long that you can appear to be engrossed in the drink in your hand. The good news is that this post has three conversation starters that you can rely on to get things moving. You’ll never have to hide in the corner, shuffling your feet at a networking opportunity, or pretend to be fascinated by the wall decorations again.

Hello, my name is… what’s yours?

This might seem like an obvious one. Maybe a little too obvious even, but you’d be surprised at how few people actually use it to start a conversation. Many people are too impressed by their own oh-so-clever pitch statement that they end up using it when they meet anyone. Sometimes it’s best to use the old classic. It prevents you sounding like you’re about to try and sell me something for a start, which is always welcome. Everyone you meet is a real person, not a prospect or a route to a sale. #networking Click To TweetNew networkers need to get one thing clear: networking is not selling. Networking is about making new friends. Everyone you meet is a real person, not a “prospect” or a route to a sale. Look for people you get on with because if you like them, the chances are that they will like you too, and that can lead to business success. The fact is that we will always prefer to do business with, or refer clients to, our friends rather than strangers. It really is as basic as that.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

This the kind of question that can really get a conversation off to a great start. I hardly ever get asked this at networking events, but when I do, it’s warms things right up. It’s a subject I often get onto in conversations with people outside of the artificial “networking event” type of encounter. If you can get someone onto the subject of what drives them and what they love to do, they really light up. Keep #networking conversations natural. Not everything is a pitch Click To Tweet Don’t be afraid to ignite a discussion that raises their blood pressure (in a good way), you can find out a lot about a person when they are talking about what they love. You discover what motivates them and from there it’s a relatively short step to being able to help them.

How can I help you find more clients?

Some people get this straight away, but others have difficulty in understanding that business networking is not about getting, it’s about giving. I’ve been networking for over two decades now and I can categorically say that I’ve always got the best results from it by putting others first. Looking for ways to help and nurture the people in my network has produced more referrals and clients than I could have got by looking for ways to help myself. That’s why this particular conversation starter is so effective. It announces very quickly that your intention is to help them rather than yourself.When you go #networking are you in a roomful of sharks? Click To Tweet

One of the main reasons for anxiety at networking events is the suspicion that you are in a roomful of sharks swimming through the room, looking for tasty-looking morsels like yourself to sink their teeth into with a hard sales pitch. Nobody likes people like that because they only care about making a sale. If you want to stand out from that crowd, be genuinely interested in helping the people you meet. I’ve found that if you are, they’ll be genuinely interested in helping you too.

The Next Step

My simple “rule of thumb” with networking is: avoid people who talk more about what they do than what you do. Be the person who is more concerned with giving than getting and you’ll become known as a valuable person to know. Get people talking about their favourite subjects, the things that inspire or drive them and you’ll get a quick insight into their personalities. Networking is a very fast way to find people that can help your business and often the only hurdle is getting past that initial ice-breaker. Remember that fortune favours the bold, so when it comes to it commit to making it happen and start those conversations. You never know where it might lead.

Enjoyed these tips? Get the book

All of the tips in this post came from my book written specially for nervous networkers. If you find networking difficult, awkward, or even terrifying you need my book “The Pocket Guide for Nervous Networkers“. It’s packed full of tips and tactics that you can use straight away. New networkers and experienced “old-timers” love it and I think you will too. Please take a look.