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Conversation starters for people who hate networking events

Networking can be a pretty annoying part of a successful career, but it doesn’t have to be if you ditch the ol’ “so what do you do?” question and try these conversation starters instead.

One of the things we all hate about networking events (even BASHH sometimes) is the dreaded and immediate, “so what do you do?” question. Most of it ask it, and we have to wade through murky waters to answer it, and both sides tend to abhor the entire process.

So why not ditch it already? It’s still part of the ol’ song and dance of networking, but it doesn’t have to be so icky.

Extroverted or introverted, there are better conversation starters. Trust me on this, I rarely utter the dreaded phrase and I survive at least one networking event per month as an extreme introvert.

While my methods aren’t always best (I reflexively bring up stupid stuff like ghosts or injury stories), there are conversation starters that normal grownups can use.

  • Stick to the edges. Grab a drink and find someone sitting alone. Walk right on up and be honest. “These things are so intimidating, mind if I hang with you for a bit?”
  • When I get nervous, I resort to compliments or talking about something they’re wearing. Never ever tell someone “you look good/great,” but it’s safe to say “your necklace/ring caught my eye, is there a story behind it?” and then pray it isn’t something like this:

  • Non-political current events are an option if you’re careful and sometimes sports can be an icebreaker, but tread lightly here.
  • My favorite is to literally just walk up to someone and say hello. “Hi, I’m Lani,” and then it goes where it goes, even if my heart is up in my throat.
  • An easy one is about attendance – “hey this is my first time at one of these, how about you?” or “so, how’d you hear about this event?” and swap stories.
  • If your brain freezes, you can always resort to breaking the ice by talking about the venue or getting there. “I’ve never been to this bar before, how about you?” or “God I love the theme of this bar, but it is just SO loud, is it always like this?”
  • Asking how long someone has been in Austin always leads to a good conversation, as everyone has an origin story, even folks (like me) who grew up here.
  • If you really HAVE to know what someone does, asking alternative questions like “so how did you get into your line of work?” is always a less greasy way to ask what someone does for a living, and you’ll get a more interesting answer.
  • A great neutral question that I fall on quite a bit is, “so what is the coolest project you’re currently working on?” which allows people to talk about work or personal life and it’s their choice.
  • Nerd it up! Ask, “What’s the nerdiest or geekiest think you’re currently into?” and you could learn that they’re a D&D master or super obsessed with Star Trek, or maybe they just learned to crochet or something. We’re all nerds about something!
  • If all else fails, my final go-to is walking up to someone standing alone and admitting, “these things make me so nervous and I can’t tell one. more. person. what I do for a living – wanna talk about the most recent thing you binge-watched instead?” and 99.9% of people will gladly go that route with you.

Y’all, networking is tough. But store a few conversation starters in your pocket so you can meet new people without having to do the traditional and soul-sucking “so what do you do?” dance!

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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The Big Ass Social Happy Hour is our monthly networking event offline, and is beloved for being casual and no-pressure. Because we hate smarmy networking events, we built a monthly gathering for like-minded business professionals to mingle without being hard sold anything. It’s well known for being the birthplace of many startups, inspired many partnerships, and endless business opportunities (all over a beer). The American Genius, LLC Copyright © 2005-2022