6 Conversation Starters To Ease Your Networking Anxiety
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You can’t do this. You’re too awkward. You won’t know anyone at the event, so don’t bother going.
Nope. None of the above is true, no matter how much you think it. Social anxiety is normal to an extent, and it’s normal to be nervous about a networking event. We all fear being rejected and feeling alone at networking events. Hello, you’re going to be with a bunch of strangers in a professional setting — it’s pretty strange when you think of it. But, if your fear of interacting with others in this way is preventing you from attending potentially beneficial-to-your-career events, bold. is here to help you.
It’s, first, important to realize that avoiding things that scare you is actually far from helpful. If you let anxiety rule your life by, say, not going to a work party or a career fair, you’re not helping yourself by avoiding what makes you anxious. You’re actually letting your anxiety win by giving it power over you. Instead of avoiding those (maybe) awkward situations, put yourself into them. The more you do it, the easier it’ll get.
I, myself, struggle with social anxiety from time to time. For example, I prefer to go to parties or events with a friend so that I know I’ll always have someone to talk to… a buffer. But, to appease my fears of being awkward in front of others, I try to think of questions that I could ask people once I’m there, and doing this has seriously helped me. So, here are a few conversation starters to ask people at the next networking event you’re invited to.
1. “What do you do for work?”
This question is straightforward, to say the least, and could be a great first question to ask. Asking this will allow for a range of answers and most people you ask will feel comfortable telling you about their work. You might even find it easy to ask follow-up questions. If you’re at a networking event for the company you work for, you could instead ask, “what department do you work for and what do you do for it?”. You got this.
2. “Wow, I’ve been looking for a blazer like that. Where did you get yours?”
Where I said blazer, feel free to insert any clothing item. People love to be complimented on their clothes, especially their work attire. I know I’m not the only one who feels uncomfortable in professional clothes, so I’m flattered when someone compliments my super profesh blazer. Plus, complimenting clothes opens up the conversation to shopping and other clothing! And don’t think this question only applies to women, because you could easily ask this question to a man, as well. If you’re worried about seeming like you’re flirting, you could ask where he got his suit and say that you’re trying to buy a birthday present for your boyfriend. If you don’t have a boyfriend, no one needs to know that. You’re just trying to make it through the event.
3. “Can you believe all that has happened this week?”
You have at least one thing in common with everyone at a networking event — you all live in the same general area. So, you could start a conversation by asking their thoughts on local news. If you missed the news that morning, ask them what they read or heard about that day. That may seem awkward, but it’s really not. Most people love to feel like they’re up-to-date on news and pop culture and will be happy to fill you in. If you live in a smaller town that isn’t the headline-type, you could try talking about general news. Pro tip: try to avoid political topics, unless you really think you share their same opinions or are ready to engage in political dialogue.
4. What are your plans for the (insert upcoming holiday)?”
Holiday plans are awesome conversation starters, because everyone has plans in some way or another. If summer is coming up, ask whoever you’re talking to to tell you about their travel plans or how they will be spending their time. Or, if the winter holidays are quickly approaching, ask them how they’re going to party (or not) on New Years Eve. Hopefully, they’ll ask you what you’re doing, too, and you’ll have a chance to brag about all the fun you’re going to be having.
5. “I heard there would be an open bar, so that’s why I’m here. What made you come to this event?”
This one is on the funnier side, but you don’t need to be funny to attempt it. Starting a conversation like this is sure to lighten the mood, and you’ll be able to talk about your favorite alcoholic drinks — and that’s always fun, right? It’s also a two-part opener. First, you get to talk about all things alcohol, then you get to hear about their interest in the event. Be ready to listen to everyone you talk to at a networking event, because you never know who might be a meaningful connection to have in the future.
6. “This is a pretty cool venue. Have you been here before?”
Talking about the venue is an easy way to spark up a conversation with just about anyone, and it could lead to a variety of follow-up questions. For example, once you’ve talked about the venue you’re currently in, you could talk about other places you’ve been wanting to try out. Ask what his or her favorite spots are and make sure to tell them yours, too. If you guys hit it off, maybe you could go to your favorite spot together to discuss career goals or work projects you need help on.
When you’re prepared ahead of time, networking really isn’t so bad. Remember: most, if not all, of us get nervous, so try not to take yourself too seriously. Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to be awkward — you’re never as awkward as you feel on the inside.
What are your favorite conversation starters?