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8 Great Icebreakers for Your Next Networking Event

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For some people, walking up to a person you’ve never met and making conversation is easy as pie. Many people even enjoy that. For others, being forced to walk up to a stranger and talk about some arbitrary topic sounds worse than walking on glass. But in order to network, you need to be able to schmooze and you need to be able to do it with strangers.

I consider myself to be a rather social person, but I still get shy when I have to meet someone new. I am very jealous of people who can just walk right up to a group, stick out their hands and laugh at a joke within five minutes. Some people have it and—well, some people need to work on it. Here is a list of eight icebreakers that will help you become more of a networking ninja… or at least a networking ninja’s apprentice.

1. Give the person a compliment.

Complimenting someone on a stunning necklace or pair of shoes is a great way to break the ice. For men this may be a bit trickier, but there’s no reason you couldn’t compliment a snazzy tie or jacket.

2. Comment on the food or ask them what they are drinking.

You know what people love? Food and drinks. If your target person to network with has a fun-looking drink, ask her what kind it is, or comment on how delicious (or bad) the food is.

3. Ask he or she who they work for.

Even if you know the answer, ask about it! And if you have connections to his company, be sure to mention them.

4. Comment on their name.

If she’s wearing a name tag, this is super easy. If her name is Kate, you can’t ask too many questions, but if she has a super interesting name you could ask a question like, “What’s the origin of your name?” or “That’s a great name, are you named after someone?”

5. Talk about the weather or the temperature of the room.

People talk about the weather a lot. Besides that, complaining about the uncomfortable room temperture is a real bonding experience. Unite against a common enemy! Think how much of your work day is devoted to this subject and haggling over who should be the one to adjust the thermostat.

6. Bring up a big news event, especially if it has to do with their line of work.

This works in two ways: It shows that you are up-to-date on current events, and it gets the conversation going. A win-win in two ways, too.

7. Talk about how long the bathroom line is.

If you end up waiting in the bathroom line for some part of the party, you may as well make the most of it. Two people are more willing to talk when they’re both being plagued by one of the utmost universal annoyances: Waiting in line for the bathroom.

8. Be honest.

A really good way to break the ice is to just talk about the fact that you are awkward and the situation is a little funny. Who doesn’t love refreshing honesty?

What’s your best, foolproof networking icebreaker? Tell us in the comments!

Photo: iStockPhoto

Topics:

Networking #Communication Career Advice
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Carly Heitlinger
Carly Heitlinger

I get incredibly nervous at networking events. I always feel super awkward and out of place. I completely freeze up when it comes time to introduce myself to someone.

The best piece of advice someone has ever told me is to wear a "whatsit" when going to an event. My social anxiety melts away (at least a tiny bit) when someone starts talking to me FIRST. A "whatsit" is an interesting thing that serves as a conversation starter. It can be a funky tie, a brooch, a great pair of eyeglasses, etc. Other people will naturally be interested in the "whatsit" and will inquire about where it's from, why you wear it, or they might simply note that you have great style.

Because you've planned to wear it, you can have a canned "back pocket response" and kick off the conversation without anxiety causing you to stumble on your words.

Works every time like a charm!

I'm big on complimenting people. I think it shows that you are interested in them and that you genuinely are a nice person. I am very shy when I first meet people, but having that in mind helps ease (not eliminate) my anxiety.

Love the tips!

Love love love this tip! Need to remember it for my next networking event

hahahaha I LOVE number 7. Finding casual, yet relevant things to talk about can feel difficult but definitely gets easier with practice. Find a way to authentically communicate and engage with the other person is not always easy...but I find truly listening is key to successful networking.

Complimenting also works for me every time! I just have to be careful that the compliment I choose to give is genuine. People can definitely tell the difference between a real compliment and a pulled-from-thin-air compliment.

Amazing tip and definitely works! I usually wear a statement necklace, works like a charm.

This is a very helpful article, thank you! I like #6, connecting through a current event, especially if it has to do with their line of work. I can see how this would be a great conversation starter!

LOVE this advice! These are very comfortable ways to start a conversation. Once I get the other person talking then the conversation just seems to flow more. Remember, chances are they're a little nervous too! :)

I love it! What's your go-to "whatsit"? ;)

So great to hear from other sisters who are somewhat shy and maybe just a little awkward. We are not alone! ;)

Great advice on small talk and I definitely aspire to be a networking ninja like Leslie someday!

We've all seen Mean Girls enough times to know that there is a distinct difference between a fake and genuine compliment. I always try to remember that we are all in an uncomfortable position and to try to make everyone at ease.

I think an addendum to this list, that piggybacks off of number eight, would be that you should be true to yourself. Many times in my life have I met people who come off as one way at a first meeting and have portrayed a characterized version of themselves upon first introduction. I try to never sway from my true self, and if I don't make an instant connection to the first person I introduce myself to, I continue to mingle with others to make other connections.

This is a great addition, Tomissa - I completely agree.

A really good way to break the ice is to just talk about the fact that you are awkward and the situation is a little funny | this is definitely my approach, Meredith!

I am an absolute introvert and it comes out most strongly when I waltz into a room full of new strangers - I am still working on developing a comfortable, non-blood-chilling reaction to that. I naturally prefer to have a deep conversation with one person rather than 10 - 15 more superficial conversations with multiple people, so what I have found works is to bring up a topic (given my level of nerdiness this tends to be philosophy or obscure facts), strike the conversation you would have with the person you would naturally gravitate towards, and then use open and welcoming body language to invite others into the conversation.

It's a slower boil approach than jumping right in to an already-active conversation, but you end up connecting with more than one person on a deeper level, and I've found that it helps me feel more comfortable than just jumping in cold turkey.

::musings from an introvert::

Elana Gross
Elana Gross
Elana Gross
Elana Gross

Annie you are absolutely not alone!

Thanks for this! I don't know how many articles I've read on just learning to break the ice when at a networking event. It's getting better though but I think it helps a lot to just attend these things until you find your footing. Good tips here though and yes, you'd be surprised weather is a popular topic.

While I think this is a great discussion I cannot imagine walking up to a male (or even female) CEO whom I'm trying to impress and commenting on the bathroom line! I often find just introducing myself works great. "Hi, I'm Kate, what brings you here" or "have you been to this venue before?" I still hate it but I'd be mortified to compliment some man on his shoes.

Thanks Meredith! I always underestimate the power of a common enemy. I hate to complain about nothing or little things like the weather or the room temperature but I think looking for something to bond positively over is the same idea. At a brunch just this weekend (with a bunch of new people) we talked about all the interesting pieces and art on the host's wall because it was something we all thought was interesting.

Sara Uttech
Sara Uttech

I once received advice that seems to work for me. When I enter a big room full of people I don't know, I quickly scan it for a familiar face - not someone I know, but someone who looks like a kind family member or loyal friend. I then try to sit by them or strike up a conversation with them.

Just having that somewhat familiar, friendly face seems to break the ice. I also try to make conversation in line at the bar or at the food line (asking what some interesting dish may be), etc.

Great advice! I'm always super nervous at networking events. These Tips are very helpful, thanks for sharing.

Rodrigo Zarco
Rodrigo Zarco

My advice is to be genuine, don't just be there to "network" but try to make an actual connection with people, because people are more than just their jobs.
Another is to find a guy who is really good at picking up women, be his friend, hang out with him whenever possible, and just learn from him; learn his lines basic body language (I guess you're all mostly women so don't draw attention to you're "package", adapt) what kind of eye contact he makes (justtone it down a little bit) and try not to sleep with him.
Anyway, don't act needy and practice, practice, practice.
Good luck out there :)


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