“Excuse me. Do you know how much a polar bear weighs? Enough to break the ice! Hi, I’m [name]. Nice to meet you.”
One of the hardest things about conferences (or any networking event) is getting a conversation going with someone — without being awkward about it.
More people than you think have anxiety walking into a room full of people they don’t know. Approaching someone new can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Very few people can pull that first line off (or should, depending on your setting) and appear professional, appropriate, and engaging. So, how do you do that?
Getting Over the Fear of Networking
I found lots of professional success through networking, but it took some time to develop those skills. After four years in leadership roles for the Association of National Advertisers – Business Marketing and various board positions for event-based (read: conversation-heavy) organizations like TEDx, Midwest Digital Marketing Conference, and more, I have found myself in some great conversations over the years…and some not so great ones. The ability to turn a not-so-great conversation into a useful one (particularly when business is involved) is a learnable skill and should be foundational for salespeople, PR, and other customer-facing public representatives of your company. Here are some ways I have used conversation techniques to build my network.
Shift your mindset to being open and curious for your potential engagements. Even if you don’t remember any of the questions below, remembering that curiosity can keep many conversations going and put you at ease if you find yourself stuck. Seek to find common ground. Try to find out what happens next.
Prepare yourself. One of my favorite quotes (or life philosophies) is attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” In most cases, having a few cards in your back pocket (literally and figuratively) can bring about some reassurance. Read through the conversation opening lines below and choose a few that are interesting to you; it’s hard to hide when you’re passionate or excited about something, which will demonstrate authenticity, a key component to a successful exchange.
Bonus points if you bookmark this page, save them on your phone, or write them on a piece of paper for your wallet; when the Dreamforce 2018 madness begins, you’re likely to forget them.
Look for opportunities to connect quickly. Waiting for your next session or in line can be a great place to strike up a conversation. Having a smart opener ensures you sound confident and actively directs the conversation to topics that can generate a future (profitable) business conversation.
Conversation Starters for Dreamforce
We all know time is valuable. When you find yourself with a few extra minutes or alone at an event, resist the urge to pull out your phone for safety. You made an investment to attend Dreamforce, so be present! Use this as an opportunity to at least practice your conversation skills and even better — translate into actual business growth.
Attending a highly specific event like Dreamforce comes with some advantages. You and the other attendees have some affiliation with Salesforce, so you can always start there. Being at the same conference also indicates similar roles and departments. Use these hints to direct the appropriate conversation openers to your receiver.
And pssst… these can actually be used for any conference with some quick adaptations!
- How long have you been using/familiar with Salesforce?
- What’s your favorite part of Dreamforce so far?
- Is there one nugget of brilliance that’s really resonating with you?
- What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned? (If Dreamforce isn’t over, add “so far?”)
- Why did you decide to attend?
- Are you planning on coming back next year?
- Are you here with other people? Do you prefer going to conferences solo or with a group?
- Are you doing any non-Dreamforce activities while you’re here?
- If you had to sum up this event in three words, which would they be?
- If you were giving a Dreamforce presentation, what would the topic be?
- Which [speaker/panel] are you most excited for?
- Which [speaker/panel] did you most enjoy? Which did you find the most useful?
- If you could meet one speaker from this year’s Dreamforce, who would it be?
- If you could have your entire company watch a single session from this event, which would it be?
- How does this conference compare to others you’ve attended?
- Are you originally from San Francisco, or did your business bring you here?
- What was your first Dreamforce experience like?
- How did you hear about Dreamforce?
- Do you know people here?
- If you could bring one person with you to Dreamforce, who would it be and why?
- Did you see any unique Dreamforce swag?
- What’s your favorite emoji? Did you know there are Dreamforce emoji?
Conversation Starters for Dreamforce Parties
Well, almost. Some business may be done behind office walls, but a lot of it is done outside the office doors. Make the most of your time and plan a networking strategy that includes your goals for attending a specific event, who you want to connect with, and what you want them to know about you.
- Do you work for [write for, program for, etc.] the host organization?
- Have you been to any events hosted by [organizer] before?
- Why’d you decide to come to this event?
- Is [theme of event] a major professional focus of yours?
- Why do you think the host chose this specific theme?
- Did this event change how you think about [industry] and/or your role in [industry]?
- Do you frequently go to these types of events?
- How’d you learn about this party?
- If you had to sum up this event in three words, which would they be?
Questions to Carry on a Professional Conversation
Don’t get caught in a professional conversation with nothing to say — at Dreamforce or anywhere. The next time you’re talking to a colleague, prospect, vendor, or anyone you need to carry on a chat in a professional environment, impress them with your conversation skills by using these prompts.
- What was the best piece of advice you got early on in your career?
- What’s your strategy for getting and keeping profitable customers?
- What sets your business apart from the crowd?
- What possibilities or opportunities do you see for your business in 2020? And in what is at least one way that you’re going to take advantage of them?
- What’s been your most successful strategy in building your business so far? What tips do you have for those that want to use that strategy as well?
- What do you love about your business?
- How did you get started in your business?
- Are you working on any interesting projects now?
- What motivates you every day for work?
Conversation Starters for Anyone, Anytime
You never know when an opportunity to grow or build a relationship will come, so in honor of Seneca, it’s best to be prepared at all times. These are conversation prompts that you can file away and pull out anytime you find yourself in a lulled conversation.
- What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read lately?
- Who are some of your favorite experts or authors?
- Do you have any interesting hobbies?
- Do you listen to any podcasts? Which ones?
- If you were in charge of the playlist, which song would you play next?
- What’s one thing someone would be surprised to know about you?
- What’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten?
- I’m working on an article about [topic]. Could I get your opinion on the direction it’s going?
- Which blogs do you read?
- On what topic do people always come to you with questions?
- If you weren’t in [X profession], which one would you be in?
- If you could publish a book on any subject, what would it be?
- Let’s say you could invite any three people in [industry, role, organization] to dinner. Who would you ask?
- What’s the last thing you learned outside of work?
Know When to Stay and When to Go
There are times you should keep a conversation going and times you shouldn’t.
Questions to Continue a Conversation
Hubspot recommends follow-up questions like:
- How did you do it?
- Why did you do it?
- What did you struggle with most?
- What was the most valuable lesson you learned from that?
If you make a connection with someone, great! That’s a solid networking score for the event and you should follow up with them promptly, even if just to say it was nice meeting them.
What you shouldn’t do is latch onto them the whole evening — not only will you seem clingy but you are negating chances of meeting other awesome people (they usually come in flocks, don’t they?). Keep it fresh and keep it moving.
Tactics to Exit a Conversation Gracefully
We’ve all been in that one conversation that drags on. And on. And on. Networking opportunities are fairly short in the grand scheme of things, so make sure you are using your time strategically. If you find yourself with a conversation drier than your drink or the victim of a Stage 5 Clinger, you can elegantly excuse yourself with these lines adapted by Work It Daily below.
- I’m going to grab a [food/beverage] while there’s time. (You can also use the restroom if there is no food, but it should be a last resort.)
- Have you met [name]? She works in your industry as well. I’m sure you both will have plenty to talk about. I’ve got to say hello to someone, but I’ll be back.
- Well, I think it’s time for me to head out. I would love to talk with you again, though. May I have your card/contact information?
The moral of the story is being yourself, being curious, and being prepared will help ease the stress of networking at Dreamforce 2018, or whatever event you might find yourself at.
If you want to learn more, there are hundreds of conversation starters available. We pulled direct copy and inspiration from this list of sources: DIY Marketers, Inc.com, The Muse, HubSpot, Work It Daily, Forbes