10 Conversation Starters for Networking and Relationship Building
One of the most important interpersonal skills to know is how to say the right things to strangers or people who are not so familiar with you. However, it is common to forget what to say after summoning the courage to talk to someone. Whatever the case may be, you will enhance your networking skills if you know the right things to say to make people want to speak with you.
In this article, we look at questions you can ask to carry on an enjoyable conversation with new acquaintances. Whether you want to know someone on a first-name basis or connect with them more deeply, these conversation starters will improve your communication skills and help widen your network of friends and professional associates.
Related article: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples
Here are some top 10 questions you can ask to create good dialogue and continue a conversation.
Question 1: How did you get into this profession?
This is one of the classic questions to keep a conversation going, especially if you have nothing to say at the moment. It is effective because you are asking for more information, which can make you appear intrigued by the topic.
Asking this question after exchanging pleasantries can deepen the conversation and place people in their comfort zone. Most people love stories about themselves and will gladly share how they pursued their career, and the steps they took to arrive at their current position.
During the conversation, show genuine attention for what they are saying. Ask follow-up questions that will further enrich the dialogue and listen actively. Perhaps, you can learn a few lessons on how to boost your career growth and development.
Question 2: What’s your biggest challenge?
If you are at an industry gathering and meet a leader you’ve been looking forward to asking some questions, a good way to spark a conversation is to ask them their biggest challenge. Even if they are your competitor, you may be surprised at the depth and honesty in their response.
Businesses and careers have challenges, but true leaders motivate their employees and manage resources to ensure the organization achieves its results. This question likely hits the person’s passion and they are likely to spare no detail explaining the obstacles they are facing, and the strategies they are using to cope with the situation.
Related article: How to Motivate Your Employees
Question 3: Tell me about…
This question can lead to a broad range of topics. You could ask about their role in an organization, how they decide on particular issues, or general topics among others. The question is important because it involves asking the person to explain something, which implies that they know more than you do about the topic. This is both flattering and courteous.
If you asked with genuine curiosity, prepare yourself for a long and rich conversation, particularly if the question relates to the person’s area of expertise. Also, this question can work for anybody, whether in formal and informal settings.
Example: “Tell me about your thought process when you declined company X’s offer. It was an industry first, but you went against the wishes of your shareholders. How did you convince your shareholders not to take the deal?”
Question 4: Why do you say that?
Asking this question shows you are a good listener. When you talk to people, especially in a relaxed atmosphere, they could make statements that may portray their profession, background or city in a way that is not favorable.
If you have a contrary opinion, you can deepen the conversation by asking the reason for their comment. Perhaps, they have a different point of view, or their background may call for them to know more about this topic. When you ask for more details this way, you create more talking points and show the person you have a genuine interest in what they are saying.
Example: “You said that there is a scarcity of experienced drivers in the trucking industry. What do you think is responsible for the high trucker turnover?”
If the person is an expert in the trucking industry, they could tell you about overregulation, poor work-life balance and a host of other problems bedeviling the haulage sector. Not only does this make the conversation longer, but can open your eyes to vital information on things you might not have known before.
Question 5: What do you love most about X?
You could ask about people’s career, sports, vocation, hobbies, families and vacation destinations among others. It may be about a speaker’s presentation or something about an event. To make this more interesting, ask when the person disagrees with something you like and take it from there. While it’s wise to avoid entering a heated argument, you can still have a satisfying conversation that involves disagreement with the other person based on preferences.
Example: “I think the last speaker delivered a powerful presentation. What’s your take?”
Example: “The event decor here is so nice! The colors are warm and inviting! What do you think?”
Question 6: What activities do you enjoy doing?
With this question, you give people the chance to talk about their core skills, although it can also be about hobbies and interests. Depending on the context and environment, the response may be about their work, home, sporting activities, and more. By asking follow-up questions for more details on the topic, you show your interest in the conversation and portray yourself as an active listener.
If you wish to hear more about a particular area of interest, such as how they became proficient at a certain skill, ask questions related to the topic. Both of you are likely to have an engaging conversation by identifying multiple activities and interests.
Question 7: What place is special to you?
We all have some places dear to us. It may be a hometown, a vacation spot, or some place that holds a pleasant memory. If given the opportunity, people are likely to tell you where they have been, what they have seen, or what they have experienced. If both of you are familiar with a place, that can also be a talking point.
Example: You may have attended the same high school at different times. The question might also be about the best restaurant in town or places where you can have a nice time without the hassle of tourists.
Question 8: Who do you admire most in your industry?
To be the best in your industry, you need to learn from the highest achievers in the profession. That’s why many people have someone they admire professionally. The person could be their role model, mentor, employer or colleague. Don’t be surprised if both of you share role models, particularly if you belong to the same industry.
Question 9: How do you deal with…?
You might ask for details on how the person handles their schedule, customers, bosses, family and unfavorable market conditions among others. Regardless of the industry or market, people face difficult situations everywhere, and use different coping strategies when necessary. This question can lead to a wide range of subjects and also provides insightful ideas that apply to your career or private life.
Example: “How do you deal with difficult clients? My office is flooded with angry customers this past week because of the approaching holiday season.”
Question 10: What is your favorite pastime?
You don’t have to be formal and professional at every industry function. It is okay to ask questions that do not relate to work or the other person’s career, such as their hobbies and the things they love doing away from the office. The question could truly be about anything, from attending sporting events to enjoying nightlife.
If you share the same experiences or a particular activity, you could have an engaging conversation about the specifics of the topic and why you enjoy it as well.
Example: “I love playing the guitar in my leisure time. What do you do to relax when you are not at the office?”
Tips for keeping the conversation going
Regardless of how social or introversive you are, there will be a time when you don’t know what to say to keep the conversation going. You may have started a topic both of you are not familiar with and one of you is losing interest in the conversation. But this does not mean you should stop the conversation altogether. Use these tips to deepen your conversations.
Show genuine interest: Be interested in keeping the conversation going. Show the person you are intrigued by what they are saying, and if all else fails, act the part even if you are not so enthusiastic about the topic.
Listen actively: One essential quality of good conversation makers is the ability to listen actively. Communication is a two-way affair and you must avoid dominating the conversation. Allow the other person to contribute to the discourse and focus so you understand their points. That way, you can avoid repeating the same questions or interrupting them mid-speech.
Related article: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples
Ask follow-up questions: A great way to keep the flow of conversation is to ask questions. Even if you know the answer, you can ask questions about a topic to allow the person to show their knowledge in that area. Not only does this demonstrate your true interest in the conversation, but it gives the other person more leverage, since you are assuming the position of a curious learner and rather than the expert. It’s better if the topic is one in which you lack a deep understanding.
Find common ground: When you are conversing with someone, look for shared experiences. You can find common ground in your career, family, hobbies, the arts, entertainment and more. This makes it easier to have an engaging conversation and allows both of you to connect at a deeper level.
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