When you walk into a room full of strangers, it’s easy to get tongue-tied. Initiating a conversation under these circumstances takes courage—but when you’re prepared with some good questions, it’s very doable. As in-person events start to pick back up, try some of these conversation starters the next time you’re at a networking event.
1. What do you love about the hospitality industry?
This question can lead to an upbeat discussion on the best aspects of working in hospitality. The answer also gives you hints to the person’s job and career path, which you can ask follow-up questions about.
2. What’s your dream job?
Hearing about someone’s ideal job gives you a good picture of what they’re most interested in, and it’s easy to transition to the subject of short-term goals and their next career moves. You may find that you’re on similar paths.
3. Who inspires you?
Many people have a role model or someone they look up to, and they’re usually happy to tell you about them. And learning the answer gives you clues about what they value and what motivates them.
4. Do you have a work-related pet peeve?
It’s nice to have a chance to vent about a stressor now and then, so many people will appreciate this question. And because people usually think of pet peeves in terms of annoyances rather than existential threats, the conversation shouldn’t get too heavy or personal for a networking event.
5. Are you a right-brained or left-brained person?
The right-brain/left-brain dichotomy posits that some people (right-brained people) tend to use creativity and emotions, while others (left-brained people) prefer analysis and hard data. Although this theory doesn’t exactly correspond to the biological facts—there isn’t much scientific evidence for pinpointing personality traits at different sides of the brain—it’s a widely recognized concept that can spark a lively discussion. See if people identify with one type or the other, and ask how they use their strengths on the job.
6. Have you tried the memory palace trick to remember people’s names?
Read up on this technique if you’re not familiar with it. In short, it’s a method for remembering information that involves picturing a familiar place, like your house, and imagining that each piece of information is located in a particular room. To recall the information, you mentally “walk” through the house and spot each name or fact.
If the other person hasn’t heard of this technique, you can explain it and get a conversation going. If they already know it, you can ask about where they learned it or whether they know of other tips and tricks. Either way, you have an excuse to learn their name and practice memorizing it.
7. What’s your favorite networking event?
If they answer that the event you’re currently attending is their favorite, you can ask why. If they name some other event, you can ask where it’s held and who sponsors it. You may get some good ideas about other events to check out.
8. Are you an extrovert or an introvert?
This question isn’t too personal to ask a new acquaintance, and the answer gives you some insight into their personality. You can follow up by asking if being an extrovert/introvert gives them an advantage on the job or if it presents any challenges for them. And if you both identify as one of these two options, you’ve found something you have in common that can prompt further discussion.
9. Do you have a favorite app for keeping track of new contacts?
Seasoned networkers will probably be happy to share their strategies for managing contacts. And even someone who’s relatively new to networking has likely encountered LinkedIn or added contacts to a phone. Whatever the other person answers, you can compare the apps you use and exchange contact information.