What do networking events, business conferences, or the office party all have in common? They’re all full of people and an opportunity for you to not only build relationships and further your career; they’re also a source of anxiety and even misery for millions of introverts. One client told me he hated all networking events because he just never knew how to break into a conversation going on or how to start one when one wasn’t in progress.
But it’s not just introverts who need to know what to say. Extroverts might never be at a loss for words, but that doesn’t mean they know how to best connect and build rapport with new people. Here are five ways to succeed, either as an introvert or extrovert, when you don’t know anyone in the room.
Ask a question, then shut up
It never ceases to amaze me how little people actually listen. If someone asks you, “What brings you here?” and you begin to answer, how long does it take them to jump in with their own story? Not long! The key to effective ice-breakers is to use them and then listen at least seventy-percent of the time afterwards. With that in mind, here are some ice-breakers that work:
- What brings you here?
- What do you do for work?
- I don’t know much about that—do you have a typical day or is there no typical day for you?
- What got you into your line of work?
- Did you always know that’s what you wanted to do?
- How is your industry doing overall? (If they say, “Great,” simply follow up: “How so, what’s going on currently?)
- What are your biggest challenges in your industry or company?
- What do you wish you knew early on in your career that you know now?
- What’s your company like—is it a great place to work?
The key to ice-breakers isn’t asking a sophisticating or surprising question that makes you look brilliant. The key is to give the other person the stage and you be their one person audience. Ask a simple and basic question, and then listen, and you’ll do just fine. Resist the urge to hijack the conversation with your own story and let them tell theirs. That’s what will make them think you’re brilliant.