Networking events remind me of online dating; you tend to repeat the same conversations with different people over and over again. It's because questions people ask when they first meet someone is often prescriptive. "Is this your first time here?", "Where do you work?" and, here's one I get all the time, "That's an interesting name. What does it mean?" The point of networking events is to build mutually beneficial professional relationships. There are better questions to ask if you want to make the most of networking events. Here's a list of them.
There is a lot of value in attending networking events. You can build strategic alliances, learn more about your industry and get your name out there. You might even end up with a new job as a result of befriending the right people at one of these outings. The problem is networking events often make people uncomfortable. Conversations can become repetitive and descend down an awkward path before someone makes an excuse to escape.
People tend to rest on familiar and generic questions at networking gatherings because it's safe to do so. They're not like completely casual social outings so you need to retain a level of professionalism, which can often stifle people's personalities. But there's no reason that you can't ask meaningful questions during networking interactions so that you're not wasting your opportunity to level-up your career.
Professional business speaker Thomas Camarda had the following suggestions:
"Just out of curiosity, why do you attend networking events?"
A much better option than the stock standard, "So what are you doing at this event?" As Camarda explains:
"When you start a conversation with "Just out of curiosity" notice how most people will move in towards you. That's because, by merely using the word curiosity, you have spiked their curiosity and now they're listening and you've got their attention. This question is also a comfortable question to get them talking. You're both at a networking event , so obviously it is something you both have in common and it gives you the bottom line on the real reason they are there."
"Where else do you network?"
A good question for those who are just starting out at networking functions. If you're talking to a seasoned networker, you'll make them feel good as they can sweep in and give you recommendations. It might well be that you both attend the same networking events and may have mutual friends. It's a win-win.
"What do you like best about what you do?"
Again, this is an improvement on the classic, "So what do you do for a living?" For Camarda:
"This is one of my favourite questions because it's really 2 questions in one. What do you like best about what you do also answers the question "So what do you do?" This question, unlike the same old, "What do you do", gets people in conversation mode rather than just giving you a short answer."
Another question that you can ask at networking events is:
"What advice would you give me if I wanted to be successful in your line of work?"
This is one of those mutually beneficial questions because not only are you showing humility in seeking guidance, you also show the other person that you value what they have to say; you make them take the important role of a mentor. In turn, you're making the other person feel good as well, which will make them more inclined to continue the conversation.
You can ask for advice on other topics as well. According to leadership coach, speaker and author Kristi Hedges:
"If the person you’re talking to has attended the event before, ask what they thought was helpful about it, or what other events they attend. Or you can ask them for unrelated advice on common interests like a restaurant or movie suggestion. These kinds of questions can get the conversation flowing naturally and illuminate common interests. As an additional plus, it feels good to have your opinion requested."
Hedges also emphasised the value of just listening:
"Sometimes the best small talk is not talking at all. Learn to ask great questions that get others to talk. Remember that people love to talk about themselves, especially when they have an attentive listener.
Keep the conversation going by asking curious questions that flow on from the other person's response.
What's your favourite question to ask at networking events? What's a good question you've heard at one of these gatherings? Let us know in the comments.