Networking Icebreakers

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There has definitely been a trend over the last decade to use distributed teams as part of most professional services companies’ project delivery systems. Technology has enabled seamless interactive and collaborative communications, which makes working remote extremely easy, both for the company but also the employee or contractor. And just as this has become an accepted model for marketing and professional services firms, it has also spawned a number of new networking venues. It appears that getting face to face is more popular than ever. We are social animals, after all, and some events can really help in recruiting and just getting the word out about our company and one’s own personal brand.

To help make that next industry function, conference, or networking event get off to a good start, we’ve compiled some of the best opening lines you can use to break the ice.

Fill in the Blank

Writing for HubSpot, Bill Cates offers the following suggestion in his article "Five Tried and True Networking Openers for Business Events."

“The next time you see someone standing by themselves, just walk right up, reach out your hand, and say, “Hello. I’m ____ with _____. Nice to meet you.” Most people will reciprocate. But some -- those with poor social skills -- might not. If that’s the case, follow up with, “And you are?” Cates concludes that: “The key to successful networking is simple -- be confident, curious, and human.” Here are his five ideas for getting the conversation going:

1. What’s the biggest______? Fill in the blank – goal, challenge etc.

2. Why are you here? Why this event etc.

3. What is your goal today? For this meeting, can I help etc.

4. Someone to meet? Maybe I can introduce you.

5. Pure fun. 
The article has a couple of fun ideas. My favorite: “Did you lose a roll of $100 bills with a rubber band around them? I wanted to return the rubber band.”

Another thing to remember when networking is to bring something to take notes with so you won’t forget people’s names and can jot down other opening lines you’ve heard. Business cards still work well too.

Why do you ask?

For a slightly different flavor, we reviewed a Harvard Business Review article by David Burkus. The title is "8 Questions to Ask Someone Other Than 'What Do You Do?'" The author cites psychology research, which suggests that people prefer to have more than a single reference point when it comes to creating a relationship. Sociologists refer to these as multiplex ties – connections where there is an overlap of context for knowing a person. This is why it’s not only logical but effective to begin a conversation with something that is not strictly work related. But don’t forget to introduce yourself first.

Mr. Burkus offers the following questions to help turn new contacts into multiplex ties:

  • What excites you right now?
  • What are you looking forward to?
  • What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • Who is your favorite superhero?
  • Is there a charitable cause you support?
  • What’s the most important thing I should know about you?

Take a look at the entire article for details on how and why these questions work. He concludes: “Regardless of which question you choose, the important thing is to ask a question open-ended enough to allow others to select non-work answers if they choose. Doing so will increase the chances that you didn’t just turn a stranger into a new contact on your phone, but that you actually made a new friend.”

The Name Tag Crutch

In all of the reference materials on the subject of networking, there is one item that is noted as “none more important” and that is remembering the name of the person that you just met. Dale Carnegie said: “The sweetest sound to anyone is hearing their own name.” That’s why I’m a fan of name tags at events. The problem is, however, when the name tag is visible there is no reason to have to remember the name, so the next time we see this person outside of a name tag event, we’ll likely not remember them.

One idea to help remember the name is to write it down. If you find yourself in a no name tag situation, you could bring some blank name tags yourself and hand them out as you mingle. This would be a great icebreaker and you’ll have some fun handing them out. Be careful, though, because you don’t want them to think you’re the caterer.

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